A Snicker of Magic

Greetings, dear friends. I know it’s been a few weeks since my last post, but I promise I have very good reasons.

  1. I’ve been fighting a wicked bad sinus infection. When I’m sick, all I feel like doing is vegging out in front of the TV. Also, it’s difficult to get involved in a book when you have to stop every few seconds to sneeze or blow your nose.
  2. I’m wrapping up another school year. The beginning and end of the year are the absolute craziest times in a school library, and this has been one of the worst finales I can remember.
  3. My weekends have been jam-packed with birthdays, family celebrations, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Not going to apologize for that.

Anyway, I’m back today with another of next year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees. This one is A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, and, to be perfectly honest, it took me a while to get into this book. (The reasons listed above are partly to blame.) I actually only got really invested in the book last night, and I read 3/4 of it within the past 18 hours or so. (I even skipped watching Supernatural last night so that I could read more. That’s huge.)

So, even with a somewhat slow start, I found A Snicker of Magic to be a delightful, poignant book, and I can only hope that my students–and you–agree.

Felicity Pickle is a word collector. She sees words floating in the air, hovering around people’s heads, and zipping all around. She writes the words in her special blue book, and she carries the book with her everywhere. That includes Midnight Gulch, Tennessee.

Midnight Gulch, her mom’s hometown, is the Pickle family’s latest stop. Felicity’s mom has a wandering spirit, but Felicity is eager to call someplace home, and it seems like Midnight Gulch may just be the home she’s always wanted.

It is here that Felicity meets Jonah, a special boy who immediately becomes her best friend. Together, they learn about the magic that once existed in Midnight Gulch, and they try to figure out just how to bring that magic back.

Felicity soon discovers that the magic of Midnight Gulch is connected to her own family…and a mysterious curse that may be responsible for her mom’s wandering ways. If Felicity can figure out a way to break the curse, using the small snicker of magic still left in this small town, maybe she can finally have the home she’s always wanted.

But can Felicity overcome her own fears and break a curse that’s held Midnight Gulch in its grips for a century? Does she truly have the power–and the words–to make this place truly magical once again? Find out when you read A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd!

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Aside from A Snicker of Magic being a heart-warming (and tear-inducing) book about the healing magic of love, music, family, friendship, and forgiveness, I think it has great potential to expand readers’ vocabularies. The words that Felicity collects are descriptive of the people and places around her, and it could be a fun exercise for young readers to explore that a bit. What words do they associate with their friends, family members, teachers, school, home, and anything else in their lives? Like Felicity, they could craft poems or songs out of these words and create some magic of their own.

A Snicker of Magic is already a big hit in my school library, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Now that I’ve read it myself, I’ll definitely encourage others to do the same. I look forward to talking to my students about this spindiddly book and sharing the beautiful words and magic found within its pages.

For more information about A Snicker of Magic and author Natalie Lloyd, you can visit the author’s blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and even Pinterest.

Get Happy

If you enjoyed Mary Amato’s Guitar Notes or are an aspiring singer/songwriter, there’s a great book heading your way. Get Happy, also by Mary Amato, will be released by Egmont USA in October, and, once again, this author explores how music allows one girl to express herself and work through everything that is happening in her life.

Minerva is a young songwriter who is desperate to have her very own ukulele. She’s sure that her mom will finally pick up on her oh-so-subtle hints, but it is not to be. On the morning of her birthday, she is met with a sweater instead of the instrument that she desires. Min does, however, receive something on her birthday that will change everything she’s ever believed about her own life. She gets a letter and a necklace from her father, a man she always thought abandoned Min and her mom. As it turns out, that may not have been the case…

While Min is both curious about her father and determined to avoid him, she’s also focused on her new job. She and a few other teens are performers for Get Happy, a company that provides characters for children’s birthday parties. Min is Get Happy’s resident mermaid, her best friend Finn is a pirate, a dimpled cutie from school is a cowboy, and Cassie, a too-perfect prima donna, is the princess. Min’s primary reason for getting this job is to earn enough money for a ukulele, but encountering so many happy (and unhappy) families is forcing her to examine her own childhood, the few memories of her father, and what she may have missed because of his absence.

Min is not ready to confront her mom yet–or, heaven forbid, her dad–about what really happened with them, so she expresses her conflicted feelings about the situation through song. When Min finally gets her prized ukulele, the songs seem to flow out of her, but the tension between Min and her mom is growing each day, and it will soon become too much for Min to bear.

When Min learns the truth about what her mom has been hiding all these years, she’ll be forced to face the father she’s never really known. Why did he really leave? Did he even care about her? And will she make a place for him in her life now? Can Min forgive her mother, know her father, and get happy with her life now that everything is out in the open? We’ll just have to see…

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Other than the whole music connection, one thing that Get Happy has in common with Guitar Notes is parents that are totally out of touch with their kids. Min’s mom seemed to be totally focused on what she wanted. She missed completely that her daughter didn’t care about the best clothes and was perfectly happy with quirky thrift store finds. Min wanted a ukulele; mom got her an ugly sweater. And most importantly, Min’s mother didn’t see how much damage she did to her daughter by keeping her from her father. Yes, I know she had her reasons, but it felt like she was acting in her own interests, not her daughter’s.

While I liked Get Happy, I do wish there had been a bit more resolution. Things felt very unfinished at the end, and I would have liked to see Min’s interactions with her father and how that impacted her life. I also wanted to see more of Min’s relationship with Hayes (the dimpled cutie mentioned above) and how her best friend reacted to it. It is my sincere hope that these issues will be addressed before the book hits stores in October.

If I had to recommend a book to young musicians, I would definitely pick Guitar Notes over Get Happy at this point. I felt like Guitar Notes had much more of a resolution, and the story itself just felt more fleshed out. I would, though, recommend both books for readers who express themselves through music. Even though the characters are teenagers, I think these books are more than suitable for readers from fifth grade on up.

For more information on Get Happy, Guitar Notes, and other books by Mary Amato, visit her website or Goodreads. And remember to pick up Get Happy at your local library or bookstore on October 28th!

Guitar Notes

I am a firm believer in the power of music. And when I encounter a book that shines a light on that, I tend to devour it. That was definitely the case with Guitar Notes by Mary Amato.

This nominee for the 14-15 South Carolina Junior Book Award focuses on Tripp, a young guitar player, and Lyla, a talented young cello player.

These two young people use the same school practice room on opposite days. Tripp is playing a borrowed guitar (his mom took his away) and is only concerned with playing for his own enjoyment. Lyla, on the other hand, is feeling some intense pressure to further her career as a world-class cello player. She’s got some big auditions coming up, and she’s supposed to be using the practice room to get her pieces absolutely perfect. Things change, though, when Tripp and Lyla begin leaving notes for each other in their little room…

At first, the notes are kind of snarky. Tripp thinks of Lyla as Little Miss Perfect, and Lyla sees Tripp as something of an oddity. The two trade barbs and, in the process, learn a little more about each other. Pretty soon, they are exploring a tentative friendship and challenging each other to really explore their musical connection. Lyla puts her cello aside for a bit and focuses on learning to play the guitar and writing songs with Tripp. These two young people bond through music, and they find a friendship that might just turn out to change their entire lives.

As so often happens, though, circumstances arise that try to drive these two friends apart. Other friends don’t understand their connection, their parents are rather clueless (and are often doing more damage than they probably realize), and both Tripp and Lyla are facing pressures that feel insurmountable at times. Music, though, continues to bring them together…even when things seem impossibly bleak.

Join Tripp and Lyla on this musical journey that will take them through friendships old and new, family drama, and even a bit of adventure. They will learn so much about each other, themselves, and the music that ties them together, and this bond will see them through good times and bad. Tripp and Lyla will see the true power of music, and they may just share that with everyone around them…

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Guitar Notes really spoke to me as a musician. No, I’m not a guitar or cello player. (I had a brief interlude with the violin, but that resulted in people thinking I was torturing a cat.) I have, however, been a brass player since I was twelve, so I know a little something about how music can fill a person up, bring emotions to the surface, and make everything a bit clearer. That’s what I saw in Tripp and Lyla in this book. I think any musician, young or old, who reads this book will see what I did–two young people finally discovering their voices and realizing how much music really means to them.

Guitar Notes was, at times, an emotional ride. I laughed, I cried, I commiserated, and I even got angry. I couldn’t stand Annie, Lyla’s so-called best friend. I wanted to slap her every time she made an appearance. She was just so bossy. Kind of reminded me of one of my best friends in school. Ugh.

I also wasn’t a fan of Tripp’s mom through most of the book. I get that she wanted him to improve his grades, but taking music away from him to make that happen? No, no, no. If anything, that did more damage, and it’s been proven that music actually improves brain function. (Look it up.) Eventually, Tripp’s mom “woke up” and saw just how much the guitar and Lyla’s friendship meant to her son, but it took way to much for her to finally see the light. Just my two cents.

I highly recommend Guitar Notes to any reader–probably fifth grade and up–who has a passion for music. This book definitely has a place in upper elementary, middle, and even high school classrooms and libraries. I would also urge music teachers to read this book and recommend it to their chorus, band, and orchestra students.

I am thrilled that this book earned a spot on this year’s South Carolina Junior Book Award nominee list. It’s a wonderful book that shines a light on just what music can do in a young person’s life.

Mary Amato’s next book, Get Happy, also has a musical theme, and it will be out in October. Thanks to NetGalley, I’ll be diving into that one soon, so stay tuned!

For more information on Guitar Notes and other works by Mary Amato, check out her website.

Close to Famous

It’s time once again, dear readers, to bring you one of the nominees for the 2013-2014 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. Last night, I finished reading Close to Famous by Joan Bauer. This SCCBA nominee was a fast read, but it packed an emotional punch…and it kind of made me want a cupcake.

Foster McFee and her mom have just run away from their home in Memphis. Somehow, they end up in Culpepper, West Virginia, and they’re looking to start fresh…and maybe make a few of their dreams come true.

Foster dreams of being the first kid chef on the Food Network. She’s inspired by her favorite celebrity chef, Sonny Kroll, and Foster spends much of her time trying out new recipes. Soon enough, her new neighbors realize that Foster is a star baker, and this girl who has troubles to spare is making a name for herself in this small town. She may also find that her troubles aren’t as big as they seem when new friends share the burden.

Foster’s mom, Rayka, dreams of being a singer. Sure, she’s had jobs before as a backup singer, but she wants to really show the world what she can do. If only she can escape a menace that’s followed her from Memphis…

The people of Culpepper welcome Foster and her mom into their town, and it will become clear that the McFees have brought some positive changes with them. Not only are Foster and Rayka on the verge of realizing their dreams, but they may just start something that will help everyone in the town.

Is Culpepper, West Virginia, ready for what’s coming? Foster, her mom, and the residents of Culpepper may not be famous yet, but they’re getting close…

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Close to Famous, and I think many of my female students will devour it. (The cover alone might be enough to drive some of the boys away.) Foster’s voice was both vulnerable and totally believable, and I think many students could relate to her struggles. Truthfully, I think any reader can relate to some of what Foster goes through. After all, haven’t we all had a dream that seems unattainable? I know I have (and still do, if I’m being totally honest).

I only have one complaint about this book. Where are the recipes?! I read so much about Foster’s delectable muffins, cookies, and cupcakes, but there were no recipes to guide me in creating my own concoctions. How disappointing! At any rate, I think this would be a fun book club pick, and those that attended the book club could bring their own homemade baked goods with plenty of recipes to share with the group.

For more information on Close to Famous and the many works by Joan Bauer, visit http://www.joanbauer.com/.

High Dive

It took me a while to get into Tammar Stein’s novel High Dive, but once I did, I found it to be a pleasant read.  Arden has just completed her freshman year at Vanderbilt and is traveling to Sardinia for the summer.  This is not just a typical summer vacation, though.  She is charged with the task of selling her family’s vacation home.  Her father died a few years ago, and her mother is serving as a nurse in Iraq, so this task falls to Arden.  She’s less than thrilled about packing up and selling a place that meant so much to her family, but she embarks on this journey anyway.

Along the way, Arden meets three girls from Texas who invite her to change her path a bit.  Instead of traveling the route she had planned, she decides to visit Paris with them and have something of a summer vacation to cope with the stress of the past few years.  But traveling with three other nineteen-year-olds is not without its stresses, as Arden soon learns.

While Arden is traveling, she also reflects on times spent with her parents, past travels, her mother’s deployment, her father’s death, and her first love.  This is a sometimes painful, but often therapeutic, process that helps Arden to grow as a person and learn that being independent doesn’t mean you can’t form lasting friendships with the people you encounter.  Read High Diveby Tammar Stein to see how Arden learns to live her life by just diving in.

I enjoyed High Dive more than I thought I would at the beginning.  While I still feel it’s a bit unrealistic that a teenager would travel to Europe by herself to sell her family’s vacation home (I know most of my students won’t be able to relate to this), I found Arden’s journey and growth in the novel to be things that anyone could relate to.