Tag Archives: middle grade fiction

Did You Ever Want a Chocolate Milk Cow?

Baxh Chocolate Milk CowsAbout a week ago, I got a package in the mail that I wasn’t expecting, but was thrilled to see. It was an autographed copy of Bash and the Chocolate Milk Cows by Burton W. Cole. Yay!

It was almost as good as getting a copy of a book with my name on the cover because I was blessed to be part of the critique group that gave input on all three Bash stories. And I loved every one!

You can read about the first book in the series, Bash and the Pirate Pig, here. Such a great story of fun, adventure, misadventure, and a few lessons along the way.

Weirdness always rules when Beamer visits his crazy farm cousin Bash, and the story about the Chocolate Milk Cows is no exception. This time, Bash is scheming a way for the cows to give chocolate milk on April Fool’s Day — because who wouldn’t want chocolate milk straight from the cow? Add to that the fact that his dad, Uncle Rollie, hasn’t outgrown April Fool’s shenanigans either, and you never know exactly what craziness to expect. Bash and Uncle Rollie are definitely a case of “like father, like son”!

I won’t give away the fun by telling too much of the story — because you (or an upper elementary/middle school kid you love) will want to read it yourself. But having chapter titles like “The Chicken Shuttle Space Coop,” “Run for Your Life or Punishment,” “Hunting Bears and Praying for a Mantis,” and “Gideon’s Kazoo Meets the Goat of Many Colors” gives a good idea of the crazy stuff Bash and the gang are up to. It’s no ordinary spring break! And, yes, the laughs and lessons found in the other Bash stories continue with Chocolate Milk Cows and leave you thirsty for more. 🙂

Burton W ColeTo keep up with Bash and his author (who might’ve filled his farm-boy days a lot like Bash does), visit Burton W. Cole on Facebook. Enjoy!

Your turn: What’s the craziest (but family friendly) April Fool’s prank you ever pulled?

Review: Bird Face by Cynthia T. Toney

It’s no secret that middle school can be some of the toughest years of many kids’ lives. But the secrets that some middle schoolers hide can shock everyone around them – including the kids they see every day.

Bird FaceThat’s how life is for Wendy Robichaud, the almost-14-year-old girl who tells the story of Bird Face by Cynthia T. Toney. Unlike some of the kids around her, Wendy doesn’t care much about popularity or being part of the groups she calls the Sticks, Suaves or Brainiacs (I’ll bet you can figure out who’s who by those names — and we’ve all been to school with them). She has her BFF Jennifer by her side, so that’s all that matters.

Then eighth grade begins and things start to change. Jennifer’s acting different and Wendy’s convinced she’s keeping secrets. Brainiac bully John “Monster” seems to find even more joy in torturing Wendy than he has in the past. And someone has started leaving anonymous sticky notes for Wendy all over the school.

“Nice face,” the first note says, which sends Wendy into a cycle of paranoia about her looks and how she needs to improve herself. But some of the notes that come later are more encouraging: “Only words.” “Good luck.” “Speak up.” And Wendy needs all the luck and courage she can get since John’s latest nickname for her is Bird Face and he seems to taunt her wherever she goes.
It’s all enough to make a girl want to run away and hide because life is quickly turning into one big mess.

The way Wendy deals with things is true life for an eighth grade girl – sometimes clumsy, sometimes quirky, sometimes more grown up than you’d think she’s ready for. And along the way, Wendy learns some lessons we all need to remember – things aren’t always what they seem and aren’t always better just because someone behaves a certain way. Sometimes the people we think we know the most about are the ones with the most surprising secrets. And the ones we barely pay attention to might be our biggest sideline supporters.


Cynthia T ToneyBird Face is perfect for middle school or early high school kids – they’ll be sure to find themselves somewhere in the crowd of kids surrounding Wendy. It touches on a few mature/more serious issues like anorexia and suicide, but does it in a tasteful way. Wendy’s just trying to figure out life, just like we all are. She’s a good one to spend some time with and maybe learn a few things from while she navigates her crazy world. And with school starting back in just a few weeks, now would be the perfect time to read it.

Learn more about Bird Face at her blog (http://birdfacewendy.wordpress.com/) or website (www.cynthiattoney.com). You can also connect on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/birdfacewendy?ref=hl) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/CynthiaTToney).

Book Review: Carrying Mason, by Joyce Magnin

Carrying MasonWhat would you do if your best friend was suddenly gone?

If you’re 13-year-old Luna in Carrying Mason, you have enough to deal with trying to work through your own grief and trying to convince your dad to let you be a pallbearer at the funeral. But then another reality hits you – Mason’s mom, Ruby Day, is mentally challenged.  And with Mason gone, who will take care of Ruby Day?

The answer is clear to Luna as soon as she thinks of the question: she needs to leave her own family’s home and move in with Ruby Day. It takes some convincing, but Luna wins her parents over and starts a new life with Ruby Day. It’s not easy, especially when people laugh at Luna’s decision and she hears the ugly words some people use when they talk of Ruby Day. Then an aunt Luna’s never heard of appears out of the blue and wants to take Ruby Day back home with her – away from Luna, from Mason’s grave, and everything Ruby Day holds dear.

How can a 13-year-old stand up to a woman so rich she has fancy furs and a chauffeur? Who will take Luna seriously and try to help Ruby Day? Luna will do everything in her power to keep Ruby Day safe in their town instead of locked up in a home for “feeble minded” people. Because she’s learned that some choices are worth fighting for.

 ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Things to think about: Carrying Mason deals with some pretty serious topics – the death of a teenager, bullying, stepping up for things you think are important, understanding mental illness and how people are sometimes treated. The book is set in 1958, when mental illnesses and their treatments were more often misunderstood than understood, and when people who suffered from the conditions were often shut away from families and society because they were an embarrassment. Luna’s story can help open kids’ eyes to these things in a way they can understand without being too heavy.

Reading age: Carrying Mason is categorized as juvenile fiction, which usually means upper elementary and middle school readers. I would be fine letting a fifth grader read it, but probably not anyone younger than that. It’s appropriate for any middle school reader, and could be the jumping off point for some discussions about mental health, discrimination, life during the 1950s and 60s, and other topics.

Find more: Visit author Joyce Magnin’s website. Carrying Mason is available from Amazon, ChristianBooks, Barnes and Noble, and other online or neighborhood book stores.

Author Spotlight: Barbara O’Conner

It can be tough to find an author who tells stories you really enjoy — and even tougher to find one of those authors who has lots of books to keep you busy reading.

One of my favorites who ranks high in both of those categories is Barbara O’Conner.

I first read one of her books a couple of years ago when our son was part of a reading quiz-bowl type competition at school. The kids read certain books and then competed against each other, answering questions about anything and everything related to the books. The book we read that year by Barbara O’Conner was Greetings from Nowhere.

This year, our daughter participated on the team, and another one of Barbara O’Conner’s books was on the list: The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. Here’s the first line of the story:

Owen Jester tiptoed across the gleaming linoleum floor

and slipped the frog into the soup.

What?! A frog in the soup? What kid would stop reading after that?

Not me, and I’m definitely not even a kid anymore. But I love a good story, especially one that has “real world” kids, some things that make me laugh out loud, and a little bit of a lesson to learn (but nothing too hit-you-over-the-head). Her stories are pretty short, so they’re quick to read. They don’t have bad language or vampires/werewolves/devils (which I’m personally not a fan of), so they’re great for kids in third or fourth grade on up.

Look for Barbara O’Conner’s books the next time you visit the library, and I’ll bet you find something funny. In the meantime, check out her website to get a sneak peek at all her books.

And, if you read one of them and enjoy it, come back here and leave a comment. I’d love to know what you think!

Is Your Favorite In the Top 100?

A couple of weeks ago, Parent & Child magazine published its list of “Top 100 Greatest Books for Kids.” I’m not sure how they decided what “greatest” meant, but they should know books pretty well because they’re part of Scholastic Books (the folks who publish the books most of you probably have at your school’s book fairs).

I’m not going to retype the whole list here (would you?!), but it was fun to read through and see some of my favorites like:

  • Charlotte’s Web — The #1 choice. Is it my top kid book of all time? I’m not sure, but I did love it and would’ve definitely put it in my top 10.
  • Goodnight Moon — A classic bedtime story for kids. I couldn’t begin to guess how many times we went through this one with both our kids. A sentimental favorite for plenty of parents, if nothing else.
  • Where the Wild Things Are — Who doesn’t want to escape to a magical, fantastic island away from the real world sometimes?
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — Not my favorite HP, but the series probably does deserve to be on the list.
  • The Lightning Thief — I didn’t read this one until about half the series was out, but it hooked me. Actually, I think the quality of writing and storytelling got better with each book, which is always a good thing. My son and I are definitely Percy fans (especially with the new Heroes of Olympus series).
  • The Hunger Games — I was a little surprised to see this one since it’s a relatively new book in the middle of so many classics. But I loved it, loved the entire trilogy, and thought they were very well written.

And there were a few I wondered about, like …

  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon — This was an interesting choice to me. I haven’t read it, but my daughter just did for a reading quiz bowl competition through school. Every kid on our team seemed to not like this one very much. Maybe I need to read it now to see for myself.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Adventures of Captain Underpants — Sure, these are funny, but I’m not sure they qualify for a “best ever” books list. Then again, it’s not my list.

Here’s the link to check out the entire “Top 100 Greatest Books for Kids.” See which ones are some of your favorites (or not on your favorite list), then come back here and leave a comment to let us know!

Author Spotlight: Shellie Neumeier

Today I’d like to introduce you to a great middle grade and young adult author, Shellie Neumeier. I first heard of Shellie when her first YA book, Driven, was published. Here’s a quick look at it:

Robyn loves her friends, enjoys her youth group, and looks forward to meeting cute Caleb Montague. But when a caustic news reporter challenges her school’s prayer team, Robyn must choose: defend their right to meet on campus and pray for whomever they wish or back down at the principal’s request.

Now she must learn what God wants her to do. And she had better learn fast, because there’s a supernatural enemy in town whose sole mission is to stop her—no matter the cost.

Then Shellie and I both became part of an online critique group for middle grade stories. Her latest book, The Wishing Ring, is for a younger audience – more middle grades than YA/teen.  It’s just been released, so check it out:

The King’s castle stands alone atop Grand Ur Mountain, but even that does not match the solitude surrounding Princess Ally. With a carrot-shaped nose, she trudges through her princess duties with the most unfortunate face. With her pet greybar (a creature with the head of a greyhound, body of a polar bear, and wings of an eagle) as her only friend, Ally dreams of becoming a beautiful princess.

When Cory, a ninja-in-training, drops through the royal chimney, he does not intend to enlist the help of anyone, much less a girl, but she holds the key to the Creator’s map. The ancient map marks the secret hiding place of the magic Wishing Ring, a ring that grants the wearer one wish.

Cory’s mysterious need for the ring and Ally’s dream of beauty send the pair to a forgotten land. Only the war ravaged clan of Odana can translate the map’s key. But even if they manage to find a translator, the question remains—can they beat the Ogre who guards the ring?

One cool fact about The Wishing Ring is that Shellie’s children helped her think out and plan the storyline. So, you see? Kids of any age can write a book!

Shellie’s now working on the sequel, The King’s Scribe. That’s the manuscript we have the pleasure of reading in our critique group. I’ll be selfish and say it’s a great experience for me to be in a critique group with a published author – someone who knows the business and can help me learn so much. I’m enjoying reading The King’s Scribe, and bet you’ll enjoy The Wishing Ring.

Learn more at Shellie’s website. Then check out her books at Amazon.com or ask your school librarian about them. Enjoy!

Book Review: Swept Away by Nicole O’Dell

Kids want to read books that are realistic instead of cheesy, but a lot of parents want to be sure their kids read books that are decent and don’t push them into “too old” things too soon. One author who’s trying to make both groups (parents and kids) happy is Nicole O’Dell. The books in her Scenarios for Girls series offer something I’ve not seen in other Christian YA novels – the chance for readers to truly see the story from both sides of the spectrum.

The books tackle lots of issues facing girls today – cheating, purity, taking dares, dealing with parents or teachers, and more. Each story has you  “along for the ride” with the main character until she reaches the point of needing to make an important, life-changing decision. The main story stops, and readers are asked to decide how they would handle the situation in the exact same circumstances. Then you continue the story, depending on how you answer. Better yet, you can read both endings to see how things might play out in the real world for both options. It’s a great way to help girls think through situations and the potential outcomes before they find themselves in the same predicament. Once a girl finishes reading the book, she has the chance to make a written commitment to implement the lessons she’s learned from the story. A parent or other trusted adult can witness her commitment and help her with accountability.

The stories I read were from Swept Away, which includes two of the Scenarios books – High Stakes and Essence of Lilly. I haven’t read others in the series, but love the whole concept. The stories themselves are interesting and right on target for today’s girls. Letting them become a part of how the story ends will hopefully help girls remember the story and its message, long after the book goes back on the shelf. I applaud O’Dell for writing for these girls in such a real way, and I’ll be passing Swept Away onto some of the girls at church. With Christmas shopping time right around the corner, you might want to look for Swept Away or the other Scenarios for Girls books for a special middle or high school girl in your life.

Ages and reading levels: Swept Away and the other Scenarios for Girls books are marketed as young adult fiction, which means they’re targeting kids in the 13-17 age range (or so). The characters in the books I read are in high school. Some of the topics might be a little more geared toward older readers, but the writing itself is fine for middle school girls and I would be fine letting a middle schooler read Swept Away. It might even be OK for some fifth graders, but I wouldn’t recommend it for girls younger than that because some of the situations might be too old for them.

For more info on Nicole O’Dell and her books and Teen Talk radio program, visit her online.

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