Fuzzy Mud

I finished another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees a couple of days ago, but I decided to wait a little while to write about it. Why, you ask? Well…I didn’t want to. I was on spring break, and I wanted to do as little as possible during the last few hours until I went back to work. I succeeded, and it was wonderful. Now, though, it’s back to the grind for me, so here we go.

On Sunday, after all of my family Easter festivities were over, I finished reading Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar. This was a quick, interesting read that could lead upper elementary and middle grade readers to think more about the environmental impact of the things around them.

If only they’d walked home on their normal route…

Tamaya Dhilwaddi and Marshall Walsh always walk to and from school together, and they always take the long way around the woods. One day, however, Marshall changes things up. In an effort to avoid Chad Hilligas, a bully who’s been making his life miserable, Marshall decides to walk home by taking shortcut through the woods. Tamaya is not exactly happy about this plan, but her mom won’t allow her to walk home alone, so she follows Marshall.

It doesn’t take long for Tamaya to realize that Marshall doesn’t know where he’s going. What’s more, Chad has caught up with them and is bent on making Marshall his own personal punching bag. In an effort to get Chad away from Marshall, Tamaya scoops up a handful of strange, fuzzy mud and flings it into Chad’s face. She and Marshall then run away, and, a little worse for wear, they eventually make their way home.

After her adventure in the woods, Tamaya notices that her hand is tingly and has what looks like a rash on it. She tries to take care of it herself, but it keeps getting worse. Could it possibly be caused by the fuzzy mud she hurled at Chad? If so, does his face look as bad as her hand does?

When Tamaya discovers that Chad is missing after their encounter in the woods, she becomes determined to find him and get him the help he probably needs. Marshall isn’t as eager to go looking for Chad, but he eventually follows Tamaya into the woods…where they find even more of the fuzzy mud and Chad, who is not doing well at all.

Something weird is going on in these woods, and Tamaya, Marshall, and Chad have–literally–stepped into a big mess. What they uncover could have huge implications for their school, their town, and the entire world.

What exactly is this fuzzy mud? Why is it causing such an odd rash? Is there a cure? What (or who) created the fuzzy mud, and can anything stop it from spreading? You’ll have to figure that out for yourself…


Like I indicated previously, I think this book could start some discussions on the environmental impact of industry and innovation. Most kids probably won’t deal with something as potentially disastrous as what occurs in Fuzzy Mud, but they do need to be aware of how much their lives could be impacted by governments, industries, and decisions made by others. Don’t believe me? Take a good look at the water situation in Flint, Michigan.

Fuzzy Mud also handles a couple of issues beyond the environment and unintended consequences. It addresses bullying and what may be causing a kid to act out. It addresses courage in the face of scary situations. At one point, Tamaya thinks to herself, “If not her, who?” No one else was really even looking for Chad when he was missing, so she did. It wasn’t easy, and she was scared; nevertheless, she persisted. An important lesson, wouldn’t you say?

I encourage you to share this book with readers in upper elementary and middle grades. It’s a fast, fun, intriguing read that’s sure to leave you thinking long after you’ve read it.

For more information on Fuzzy Mud and other books by Louis Sachar, visit this award-winning author’s website.

Where I Belong

When I first became an elementary school librarian, I figured out pretty quickly that Mary Downing Hahn was the go-to author for scary stories. I guess that’s why the book I finished last night surprised me a bit. While parts of Where I Belong are horrific, it’s not the scary book I typically expect from this author. Oddly enough, some of my students who have no problem with ghosts, gore, or stuff like that find a few of the situations in this book a little too disturbing. It kind of makes me evaluate what really frightens people.

Brendan Doyle expects people to be mean to him. It’s pretty much all he’s known. Abandoned by his mother when he was little, Brendan has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. His current foster mom, Mrs. Clancy, doesn’t know what to do with him, and his teachers seem to feel the same way. Brendan doesn’t care much about school, so he doesn’t see why he should even try to pass the sixth grade. He doesn’t want to go to middle school anyway.

As for relating to other kids, he doesn’t. Brendan hasn’t a friend in the world, and he spends much of his time alone. He’s bullied by other kids and by a trio of ruffians who delight in terrorizing everyone they meet.

Brendan finds some measure of peace in his books, art, and visiting the forest nearby (which he’s sure is enchanted). One day, after building a private treehouse in the woods, Brendan meets an old man. He’s convinced this guy is the Green Man, the protector of the forest. Brendan looks to the Green Man as an ideal, someone to aspire to. Maybe he can escape real life and live in the forest someday, too.

Back in the real world, sixth grade is over, and Brendan is now attending summer school. He’s not enthused, even with a decent teacher and a possible friend, a girl named Shea. Shea follows him around–even when he tells her to get lost–and just will not allow him to ignore her. Almost against his will, the two become friends, and they find common ground in their love of fantasy, the forest, and family lives that aren’t so great. Shea even convinces Brendan to try a little harder at school so that she’ll have a friend in middle school. Maybe things are beginning to up for Brendan.

Unfortunately, things don’t stay so great for long. Once again, Brendan becomes the victim of the three hooligans who have given him a hard time before. This time, though, they take things a step or two further. Brendan wonders why the Green Man, guardian of the forest, doesn’t come to help him. He feels lost, broken, and alone, and he doesn’t know what to do.

But Brendan is not alone. He has Shea. He has the Green Man (who has a story all his own). He has his summer school teacher. He even has Mrs. Clancy. With their help, maybe he can find some hope. He may even find the courage to stand up to his tormentors and see justice done.

Soon, Brendan will discover that hope and friendship can overcome even the darkest times, and he’ll finally find out where he belongs.


I think I’ve made this book sound pretty good (not to pat myself on the back or anything). It is good, but I didn’t like as much as I wanted to–as much as I usually like Mary Downing Hahn books. I did cry at the end, so I was invested emotionally. I guess that’s something, but I much prefer Hahn’s spooky stories. I’m betting my students will feel the same.

Some of the situations Brendan finds himself in are, in my view, a bit too gritty for most elementary school kids. I’m thinking specifically of his run-ins with the three ruffians mentioned in my synopsis above. I think the book as a whole is fine for mature 4th/5th graders or middle school students, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a lot of my younger or less mature students. I just don’t think they’re developmentally ready for some of what Brendan encounters. (Feel free to disagree in the comments.)

For more information on Where I Belong and other books by Mary Downing Hahn, visit the author’s website.

 

Wonder Woman at Super Hero High

I’ve loved Wonder Woman since I first saw Lynda Carter spin around when I was a kid. My parents have pictures of my three-year-old self posing in my Wonder Woman Underoos. I have Wonder Woman action figures, comic books, t-shirts, and even Converse shoes. There’s a Wonder Woman display in my school library. I buy my nieces Wonder Woman stuff for birthdays, holidays, or whenever the mood strikes me. So of course I had to read Wonder Woman at Super Hero High, the first book in the DC Super Hero Girls series by Lisa Yee. I’m just embarrassed it took me so long to get around to it. (It was released nearly a year ago.)

Super Hero High is the place to be for teen super heroes…and Wonder Woman wants in. After spending her entire life on Paradise Island (also known as Themyscira) with her mother, Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, Wonder Woman finally convinces her mom that she needs to be trained as a proper super hero. Off to Super Hero High she goes!

With a positive outlook and a desire to make a difference, Wonder Woman enters the hallowed halls of Super Hero High. Even though some things perplex her (like slang and sarcasm), she’s determined to be a successful student.

Almost immediately, she makes a few friends–like Bumblebee, Katana, Hawkgirl, and Harley Quinn (who’s also her roommate)–but it seems she’s also made an enemy or two. Someone keeps leaving notes for her indicating that she’s not wanted at Super Hero High. Who could dislike her so much?

With Harley Quinn videoing every move she makes and someone leaving her mean notes, Wonder Woman is feeling the pressure to be the best, especially when she factors in her desire to be on the school’s Super Triathlon team. Can she make a difference when so much is weighing on her? Can she possibly figure out who wants her gone?

Join Wonder Woman and many other familiar faces to find out if they’ve got what it takes to be true heroes!


I’ve glossed over a lot here, and that’s sort of intentional. It’s a fast, entertaining read, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. A few things I will say, though:

  • I love that Wonder Woman has kind of an Amelia Bedelia vibe in this book. She’s very literal, and it’s fun to see how someone who’s been so removed from slang and popular culture navigates through high school.
  • Speaking of high school, who knew super heroes had it just like the rest of us? Mean girls, struggling to make friends, bullies, striving to make good grades, living up to parents’ expectations. It’s all there, and it’s nice to see that even those with super powers deal with the same stuff we all do.
  • If you’re not familiar with DC comic book characters now, you soon will be. I know a lot of the characters mentioned in this book thanks to the old Adam West Batman TV series, some DC movies (some good, others not so much), and the wonderful programming on the CW. Wonder Woman at Super Hero High introduced me to some I didn’t know much about, and I look forward to reading more adventures of these super (and not-so-super) heroes as teenagers.

Wonder Woman at Super Hero High is a great fit for elementary and middle school libraries. Considering that many kids (and adults) read DC comics and collect action figures, there’s a ready-made audience just waiting for this book and those like it.

The next two books in the DC Super Hero Girls series are Supergirl at Super Hero High and Batgirl at Super Hero High. Both are already out. The fourth book, Katana at Super Hero High should be out on July 4th of this year.

If you’d like more information on Wonder Woman at Super Hero High and the series as a whole, visit author Lisa Yee’s website.

Enjoy!

The Bronze Key

A word of warning: Proceed with caution if you haven’t read both The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet, the first two books in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This post might be a little spoilery if you’re not totally caught up.

This may not be my standard post. I’ve been awake since 3am, and I’m having a little trouble keeping my eyes open, much less stringing sentences together. I’ll do the best I can.

Yesterday, I finished reading The Bronze Key, book three in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. This book continues the story of Call, Aaron, and Tamara, three young mages trying to figure out this whole magic thing. They are students at the Magisterium, and Call and Aaron are both Makars, or mages with an affinity for chaos magic.

As The Bronze Key begins, Call, Aaron, Tamara, and their frenemy Jasper are being honored for their action against Constantine Madden, known as the Enemy of Death, and his minions. What most people don’t know is that the soul of the Enemy of Death is very much alive…and residing within Call.

Call worries that he’ll become an evil overlord one day, but that’s only part of his problem at the moment. At the party honoring Call and his friends, one of the Magisterium students is mysteriously killed and another attempt is made on Call’s life. It’s clear that someone is out to get him, but why? Does someone know his secret, or has he outlived his usefulness as a Makar?

Soon enough, Call and company are back at the Magisterium, and the mystery deepens. There is a spy in their midst, and it could be anyone. Call doesn’t know who to trust, and he even looks at his best friends with a certain degree of suspicion. He’ll have to figure out what’s going on fast before he–or someone else–meets a rather sticky end.


I’m going to stop there before I give too much away. It’s enough to tell you that some bad stuff goes down in this book, and it wallops you in the heart before all is said and done. I, for one, wish I could dive into book four, The Silver Mask, right now so that I could see where things go from here. Sadly, that is not going to happen.

Speaking of The Silver Mask, it is set to be released sometime in 2017, but I’m not sure exactly when. My guess is early fall.  The fifth and final book, The Enemy of Death, will follow in 2018.

For more information on The Iron Trial, The Copper Gauntlet, The Bronze Key and the rest of the Magisterium series, visit the official website. It’s got lots of interactive goodies that you may enjoy.

Note: The Iron Trial is a nominee for this year’s South Carolina Children’s and Junior Book Awards. In my opinion, the entire series is a good fit for fantasy lovers in upper elementary grades and up.

The Seventh Wish

What do you get when you combine a wish-giving fish, Irish dancing, and drug addiction? You get The Seventh Wish, Kate Messner’s newest book. This book is weird, moving, and magical. It will be released this Tuesday, and it is at once fun and serious. Yes, there is a fantastical element to it, and it’s often entertaining to see how that plays out, but the book also deals with some difficult situations. Those situations are handled in a very real, accessible way, and it’s interesting to see how serious issues may be viewed through a child’s eyes.

Charlie doesn’t expect much from her ice fishing adventures with her friend and his grandmother. But when she comes across a fish that agrees to grant a wish in exchange for its freedom, Charlie reevaluates things. Maybe this fish can help Charlie, her friends, and her family get everything they’ve been hoping for.

As one could imagine, a girl isn’t going to let a wish-granting fish go to waste, so she puts it to good use. Charlie wishes for her mom to get a new job, for one friend to pass her English exam, for another to make the basketball team, and for a boy she likes to fall in love with her. Unfortunately, Charlie learns rather quickly that one must be extremely specific when speaking to a wish fish. Her wishes, however well-intended, are not turning out as she would have hoped.

Even with all of this wishing and fishing going on, Charlie still has to find time to work on her science project and practice her Irish dancing. A big dance competition is coming up, and she could have the opportunity to move up into a higher class. It’s a big deal, and Charlie has been psyching herself up for a while. She won’t let anything get in her way.

Sadly, something does happen that derails Charlie’s plans as well as everything she ever believed about her big sister. When it’s revealed that her sister, who’s been away at college, is having problems with heroin addiction, Charlie’s family–her whole world, really–changes. Everyone drops everything to help Charlie’s sister, and, while Charlie understands why, she’s also angry that she’s having to give up so much. Her dance competition, time with friends to work on their science project, and nearly everything else. Isn’t she important, too?

Charlie wonders if her wish fish could somehow help to make her sister and this horrible situation better. If she’s very careful with her words, maybe it could. Maybe her sister could come home and be the girl that Charlie always looked up to. It couldn’t hurt, right?

For a while, everything is going okay, but then something happens that shakes Charlie’s world once again, and Charlie knows that her wish fish can’t help with this one. Some things are just to big too let a little fish handle.


This book brings to mind the saying, “Be careful what you wish for.” Charlie’s wishes definitely get away from her, and she learns quickly that words have power. Some of the situations she found herself in were kind of funny. Others, as you’ve no doubt gathered, were heart-breaking.

Some adults may hesitate to put this book in elementary or middle school libraries because it deals with the topic of heroin addiction. Nothing is sugar-coated here, but I do think the topic is handled with care and empathy. Like it or not, some of our younger students deal with addiction as a daily part of their lives, and they need stories that show them that they’re not alone. I think The Seventh Wish is a book that speaks to students who’ve had siblings, parents, or friends suffering from addiction. I also think it might enlighten those who haven’t dealt with such a serious issue.

Will I be placing this book in my elementary school library? Yes, I will.

If you’d like to learn more about The Seventh Wish so that you can decide if it has a place in your school, classroom, public, or personal library, visit author Kate Messner’s website.

Many thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this wonderful book a little early.

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!

The Inside of Out

I had an unexpected connection with my latest read, The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne.

This story, which will be released on May 31st, takes place in and around Palmetto High School in South Carolina. I actually graduated (almost twenty years ago) from Palmetto High School in South Carolina. Now, the school in this book is located somewhere around Charleston, and my high school is in the Upstate (Anderson County, if you want specifics), roughly 200 miles away, but I still thought this connection was pretty cool. (Yes, I know I’m a dork.)

Anyhoo, The Inside of Out, takes a look at a very special friendship and what one girl will do to stay involved in her best friend’s life when things begin to change.

Daisy and Hannah are best friends. They share almost everything with each other. It comes as little surprise to Daisy, then, when Hannah comes out just before the start of their junior year. Daisy is beyond prepared to be a supportive friend…even though she despises Hannah’s girlfriend, Natalie. (There’s a bit of a history there.)

Even though Hannah shies away from the spotlight, Daisy is determined to be the staunchest ally her friend could ever hope for. She joins the school’s Gay Alliance, and, before she really knows what she’s doing, Daisy is leading a campaign to end the school’s ban on same-sex partners at dances. She actually becomes the face of this campaign–which is gaining international attention–and everyone simply assumes she’s a lesbian. Daisy plays along, but she’s straight. Surely this little white lie couldn’t lead to problems, could it? (I bet you’ve already figured out the answer to that question, haven’t you?)

Daisy’s fight for equality is getting out of hand, and her relationship with Hannah is suffering. Hannah never really wanted any of this, and it’s driving a wedge between the two friends…and between Hannah and Natalie. Daisy’s love life isn’t much better. What could be a connection with a college journalist takes a back seat to Daisy’s quest to create an inclusive homecoming event.

Everything is spiraling out of control, and Daisy doesn’t know if she can hold on. How can she possibly deliver on everything she’s promised? What will all of this mean for her friendship with Hannah? Is there any way for Daisy to untangle the mess she’s made while being true to herself and her best friend? Find out when you read The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne!


So…even though Daisy was grating at times and I found the ending to be a tad unrealistic, I did enjoy this book. I think it’s a good look at what it might be like to be the straight best friend. I know it’s all-too-easy to see people as issues instead of friends. Daisy took things a bit farther than most probably would, but I can understand how she would want to be supportive of her friend no matter what.

I also think The Inside of Out addresses the issue of privilege in an easy-to-understand way. At the end of the book, Daisy is called out on her gung-ho quest for equality. If she fails, she really loses nothing. She can go home, live her life, and nothing major will change. For many of the other students in the Gay Alliance, however, that’s not the case. They face ridicule, hatred, and even violence regularly, and that will still be true whether or not Daisy’s plans fail. This book has helped me to check my own privilege and look at a variety of issues and scenarios through different lenses.

I think The Inside of Out is a great pick for libraries that serve young adults. It is an especially important book for collections looking to build up their book selections for LGBTQIA readers and allies.

If you’d like to learn more about this book and Jenn Marie Thorne, visit the author’s website, and remember to look for The Inside of Out on May 31st!