Finding Orion by John David Anderson

Finding Orion

John David Anderson, Author

Walden Pond Press, Fiction, May 7, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 368

Themes: Death, Grandfather, Family relationships, Fathers and sons, Love, Humor

Book Synopsis:

Rion Kwirk comes from a rather odd family. His mother named him and his sisters after her favorite constellations, and his father makes funky-flavored jellybeans for a living. One sister acts as if she’s always on stage, and the other is a walking dictionary. But no one in the family is more odd than Rion’s grandfather, Papa Kwirk.

He’s the kind of guy who shows up on his motorcycle only on holidays handing out crossbows and stuffed squirrels as presents. Rion has always been fascinated by Papa Kwirk, especially as his son—Rion’s father—is the complete opposite. Where Dad is predictable, nerdy, and reassuringly boring, Papa Kwirk is mysterious, dangerous, and cool.

Which is why, when Rion and his family learn of Papa Kwirk’s death and pile into the car to attend his “Funneral” and pay their respects, Rion can’t help but feel that that’s not the end of his story. That there’s so much more to Papa Kwirk to discover. He doesn’t know how right he is.

Why I like this book:

This is one wacky story and it tops my list for the oddest book I’ve ever read. That being said, it’s also charming and funny, and heart-warming and downright bizarre. Anderson takes quirkiness to a new level when a singing clown shows up to tell them Rion’s grandfather, Frank, has died. Who does that? What a great “gotcha” opening for readers. You are compelled to read on.

The plot is hilarious and engaging. The “FUNNeral” is held in the Greensburg, Illinois town park, with speeches, a barbershop quartet, a marching band and food trucks to feed the guests. This is not your normal send-off, but it is original, fulfills Papa Kwirk’s final  wishes and allows the community to come together to share happy memories of “Jimmy,” a man they loved, with his family. Rion’s father is done with all of the untraditional nonsense and ready to head home when Aunt Gertie announces that there is a scavenger hunt to find Papa Kwirk’s ashes. The hunt is important journey in the story. It is an opportunity for everyone in the family to know Papa Kwirk better and to heal the divide between Rion’s father and grandfather.

Rion (Orion) is probably my favorite character because he is a smart and observant narrator, funny and awkward on his path to self-discovery. Rion may feel very ordinary among his odd parents and siblings, but he notices things that others don’t. The remainder of the characters are just plain fun and of course quirky. The sibling dynamics are delightfully normal with all the usual sibling pranks. And not to forget Cass’s pet python named Delilah.

I fell in love with the Kwirk family and their emotional journey as they explore the joy and pain, and regret and recovery of being a family. Readers will discover many laugh-out-loud and irreverent moments. I highly recommend this unforgettable book.

Favorite Quote:

“Seriously?” I shouted, my voice carrying through the amphitheater. “This freakin’ family can’t even die normally.”  Page 140

“One thing could be said for my grandfather, through: he was one of a kind. And there was a whole town full of people who would never forget him.” Page 335

John David Anderson is the author of many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Ms. Bixby’s Last Day as well as Posted, Granted, Sidekicked, and The Dungeoneers. Visit Anderson’s website for more information.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

Beverly, Right Here

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 24, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Pages: 256

Themes: Runaways, Loss, Family relationships, Friendship, Kindness

Opening: “Buddy died, and Beverly buried him, and then she set off toward Lake Clara.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. Now that she’s fourteen years old, she figures it’s not running away. It’s leaving,

Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her alcoholic mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to herself through their eyes.

Why I like this book:

It is always a pleasure to read and review a new Kate DiCamillo book. Her imagery and vocabulary sparkle without weighty text. A gifted storyteller, DiCamillo challenges readers with big questions about the meaning of home, family, friendships, belonging, and self-discovery. There is so much to love about Beverly, Right Here and it’s heroine, Beverly Tapinski was first introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale.  It is the final book in the series about three friends. If you haven’t read the second book, Louisiana’s Way Home, make sure you grab a copy.

I love the voices DiCamillo creates for her main characters. Beverly’s voice is determined and defining because of her soul searching journey to embrace herself. She sees herself as an independent loner. She doesn’t want or need anyone. Or does she? Once she arrives in Tamaray, it doesn’t take Beverly long to land a job at a fish restaurant busing tables.  She finds a couch to sleep on at Iola Jenkins, an eccentric old woman who lives alone in a trailer park. Along the way she meets Elmer, who works at a convenience store before he heads to Dartmouth College in the fall. He’s shy and self-conscious, but has a generous heart. A colorful, humorous and engaging relationship unfolds between Beverly, Iola and Elmer.

Beverly, Right Here is an excellent middle grade discussion book. Once released, there will be a teacher’s guide and a book group discussion guide.

Favorite Quote:

“Imagine if you hadn’t found my trailer. Imagine if I didn’t need someone to drive the Pontiac. Then me and you wouldn’t have become friends, and you wouldn’t know how to dance. Oh, I’m glad I needed you. I’m glad you needed me. “I didn’t really need you,” said Beverly. “Yes, you did, honey,” said Iola. “Yes, you did,” said Elmer from the back seat. “Okay,” said Beverly. “Whatever you people say.” Page 207

Kate DiCamillo is the author of many books for young readers. Her books have been awarded the Newbery Medal (Flora & Ulysses in 2014 and The Tale of Despereaux in 2004); the Newbery Honor (Because of Winn-Dixie, 2001), the Boston Globe Horn Book Award (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, 2006), and the Theodor Geisel Medal and honor (Bink and Gollie, co-author Alison McGhee, 2011; Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, 2007). She is a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Emerita, appointed by the Library of Congress.

Greg Pattridge hosts for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Lessons of a LAC and Perfect Petunias by Lynn Jenkins

I am pairing two books, both written by Lynn Jenkins and illustrated by Kirrili Lonergan, because they carry very important messages for children who are anxious or show perfectionistic tendencies.  The text is spare and the humorous oversized Dr. Seuss-like illustrations that leap off the pages. Through Loppy and Curly, who look at life differently, children will find helpful ways of looking at anxiety and perfectionism and learn to be more flexible. And children will giggle out loud as they rapidly turn the pages! This gorgeous series, with quirky pen and ink characters, is a gem. It is perfect for children 4-8 years.

Lessons of a LAC

EK Books, Fiction, Dec. 18, 2018

Themes: Anxiety, Worry, Peace, Calm, Humor

Synopsis: Loppy is a LAC, or a “Little Anxious Creature.” LACs have big muscles in their eyes and lips, so their eyes are really googly and his lips really huge! They live in a village on one side of a big mountain.  Loppy is good at focusing on what could go wrong and never stops worrying about the “what ifs…”  The enemy of the LACs are the Calmsters, who live on the other side of the big mountain and learn about calm and peace and have a “I can do it” attitude.  They have always battled — when one party wins a battle, the other shrinks! Curly the Calmster just wants Loppy to think differently about his worries. As Curly and Loppy battle it out, Loppy learns that maybe he can manage his anxious thoughts after all. Lessons of a LAC gives readers unique ways to think about common emotional difficulties while teaching them the right words to reassure themselves when they are worried.

Perfect Petunias

EK Books, Fiction, Jul. 3, 2018

Themes: Perfectionism, Mistakes,  Hopeless, Humor

Synopsis: Loppy LAC is very worried about not doing his homework well enough. He is always focusing on what he hasn’t done rather then what he has, and he becomes very frustrated. “My writing is all messy…I’ve made heaps of mistakes…I’m hopeless.”  His friend Curly is very patient as he waits and waits for Loppy to end his tantrum. Curly teaches him about how petunias grow — in lots of different, imperfect directions that he can’t control! With Curly’s help, Loppy learns that in trying to control his mistakes he’s trying to grow ‘perfect’ petunias — which is impossible. Sometimes he just needs to accept that things go a certain way and to change his definition of ‘perfect’ to mean trying his absolute best.

Resources: These are great discussion books at home and school.  Ask kids to name what makes them anxious or what makes them want to be perfect. Make a list. Use the book as a guide to show kids that bad things don’t always happen.  Take children outside to look at the petunias and other flowers that are growing in yards. Let them see the beauty in the imperfect way petunias grow. Encourage them to paint a page full of petunias and let it be messy and beautiful. And of course, draw a picture of Loppy and Curly.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copies provided by EK Books.

Warren and Dragon: Scary Sleepover by Ariel Bernstein

Warren and Dragon: Scary Sleepover, Book 4

Ariel Bernstein, Author

Mike Malbrough, Illustrator

Viking Books for Young Readers, Jun. 25, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Pages: 90

Themes: Sleepover, Fears, Homesickness, Family relationships, Imaginary friends

Opening: Some people might think that having a dragon for a pet is scary. I guess it sounds like it might be scary, because of the fire breathing and all, but I have a dragon for a pet and most of the time it’s pretty normal. Except when Dragon does his weird dancing jig. That’s always terrifying… He’s my pet.

Book Synopsis:

Warren’s friend Michael just got a cool new tent as a present. It’s too cold to go camping outdoors, so Michael invites Warren over for a sleepover where they can camp inside.

At first Warren is excited. They’ll order pizza, play foosball, and make ice-cream sundaes! Then they’ll  go down to the basement, crawl into their sleeping bags inside the tent and tell scary stories. Gulp! The more Warren thinks about sleeping somewhere besides his own safe bed, the more worried he gets. And his sidekick, Dragon, isn’t exactly reassuring.

But when Warren confesses his concerns to his friend Alison, he realizes that he isn’t the only kid nervous about sleepovers. The two of them make a pact to face their fears.  But will Warren be brave enough to camp in a dark basement that creaks and groans and listen to Michael’s scary stories?

Why I like this book:

This clever new chapter book series is realistic, heartfelt and delightful.  It is the fourth Warren & Dragon chapter book by Ariel Bernstein this past year. Sleeping overnight at a friend’s house for the first time can create a lot of anxiety for children. What if I get homesick? What if I get scared? What if I embarrass myself if I want to go home?  This fast-paced book is the perfect read-aloud at home or school. It is a great discussion starter for kids nervous about sleepovers.

Bernstein tackles this early right-of-passage with humor and authenticity. Warren’s character is a tad quirky and naïve, but believable. He is opposite of his outgoing twin sister. Warren’s imaginary marshmallow-loving, side-kick, Dragon, is quite the prankster and is good for many chuckles. Warren’s friendship with Alison is supportive as they come up with a pact and a plan. Mike Malbrough’s pen and ink illustrations are expressive and fun.

I like that the author shows diverse families with Warren’s friend, Michael, having two moms.  It’s always special when kids can see a family like theirs, whether it is a single parent, grandparent, two dads, or in this case two moms. Kudos to the author.

Ariel Bernstein loved sleepovers growing up, and was only afraid there wouldn’t be enough pizza and ice cream. Other books in the series include: Warren & Dragon 100 Friends; Warren & Dragon Weekend with Chewy; and Warren & Dragon Volcano Deluxe. She is also the author of I Have a Balloon and Where is my Balloon? Visit Bernstein at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Copy reviewed from a library copy.

The Problim Children: Carnival Catastrophe by Natalie Lloyd

The Problim Children: Carnival Catastrophe Vol. 2

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Jun. 25, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Suspense, Treasures, Mystery, Adventure, Family Relationships, Humor

Prologue: “The wind came as a night visitor, sneaking through the town of Lost Cove like a clumsy bandit. Knockings boats against each other in the harbor, pushing over trash cans, tossing tree limbs into the street, and swirling across the barren land where a river used to be. A purple-tailed squirrel sleeping in a tall magnolia tree on Main Street startled awake. It was not afraid of this weather … but it was definitely curious. “…” At House Number Seven, the wind burst through an upstairs window with a huff and a puff and a roar. It billowed down the stairs, all the way to the basement, and whispered over the face of a dark-haired girl as she dreamed.”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

All the Problim siblings are capable of magic if they stick together. But trusting each other isn’t easy for the seven siblings when neighbors like Desdemona and Carly-Rue O’Pinion are working double-time to turn the town against them.

From catapulting cattle to runaway corndogs to spiders on the pageant stage, the Problim brothers and sisters are blamed for every catastrophe at this year’s carnival. And to top it all off, Mama Problim is missing!

Can the seven siblings come together in time to save the carnival and rescue their mom from a villain even more dastardly than Desdemona? Or will they discover too late what it truly means to be a Problim?

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd never fails to delight with her exquisite, lyrical prose and fun-loving narratives.  She is a master with clever wordplay, rhymes and clues. She is an original voice in children’s literature. Her sequel, Carnival Catastrophe, is a witty romp in weirdness and chaos, as the siblings are frantic to rescue their missing mother (an archeologist) and have some fun in the town’s annual Corn Dog Carnival.

You can’t help but be enamored with the weird and beguiling Problim children and their beloved pig, Ichabod. Lloyd writes her characters with depth, emotion and charm. Each of the seven kids is named after a day of the week and  has a magical talent — from flatulent toddler “Tootykins” (Tuesday) to Wendell, (Wednesday) who works with water. In this sequel, Mona (Monday) takes center stage. She is creepy, odd, and wears spiders that dangle as earrings and from her finger tips. She is definitely the weird child. When she decides to participate in Lost Cove’s Corn Dog Carnival  beauty pageant, she dresses as a vampire. She is prone towards trickery, which proves to be scary during the pageant. Although Mona enjoys her individuality, readers will enjoy her profound character growth — something that takes great courage as she relates to her arch nemesis, Carley-Rue O’Pinion. and realizes that her assumptions may be wrong.

The plot is a thrilling and dangerous adventure, as Mona and her siblings search for treasure and their missing mother.  Scattered throughout the story are pen and ink drawings of the action, which adds to the quirky feel of the story. The book reminds me of my hours spent with Pippi Longstocking. But today’s readers will liken it to The Penderwicks and Lemony Snicket. There is a lot of fun and humor along their journey. For readers who are charmed by the Problim Children, there will be a final book in the trilogy. Lloyd leaves readers with a cliff hanger. Both young and older readers will enjoy Carnival Catastrophe. It is the perfect summer read!

Natalie Lloyd is the New York Times bestselling author of A Snicker of Magic, which has been optioned for television by Sony TriStar. Lloyd’s other novels include The Key to Extraordinary, and The Problim Children series. Lloyd lives in Tennessee with her husband, Justin and her dogs. Visit Lloyd at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Everybody’s Favorite Book by Mike Allegra

 

Everybody’s Favorite Book

Mike Allegra, Author

Claire Almon, Illustrator

Imprint/Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, Fiction, Oct. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 3-6

Themes: Heroes, Humor, Mystery, Fantasy, Big words, Poop jokes

Opening: “You are very lucky. You are reading Everybody’s Favorite Book. There is not one person anywhere who has a different favorite book. Do you want to know why this is everybody’s favorite book? I’ll explain. ”

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Anyone who says, “You can’t please everybody,” isn’t trying hard enough. At least, that’s what the cheeky narrator of this meta picture book thinks!

A “good” book may have a spaceman or a ninja or a cowboy, but Everybody’s Favorite Book has something better: a Space Ninja Cow. And that’s only the beginning. You like princesses? We got ‘em. Prefer a mystery? No sweat. Want the definition of gallimaufry? A good poop joke? A giant, carnivorous guinea pig? Spy kids? Check, check and check. And there’s more! Much more! This book has everything, for everybody! At least that’s what the cheeky narrator thinks!

Here’s hoping things don’t go awry. (Spoiler, they do.)

Why I like this book:

This clever and humorous picture book will appeal to kids who like to make up their own stories. And, they couldn’t have a better teacher — the outrageous and quirky author, Mike Allegra, who loves to think outside-the-box and make kids laugh. His book would make a great read-aloud in an elementary classroom.

A narrator guides readers through the story. With every page turn the story keeps changing because some readers don’t like violence, others want princesses, some prefer a mystery (missing Space Ninja Cow) and others want big words. As more characters appear, so does the chaos and the book becomes quite crowded. It becomes clear the narrator has lost control of his readers and finally shouts “STOP!”  How will the narrator regain control? Or will he?

Claire Almon’s cartoon-like illustrations are lively, colorful and hilarious. They add life to the story.

Resources: This is rambunctious and silly story will inspire reader’s imaginations. Encourage kids to choose a scene and write their own ending. Or have them draw the scene on paper. Make sure you check out Allegra’s website.

Mike Allegra is the author of the picture book, Sarah Gives Thanks. Under the pseudonym Roy L. Hinuss, Mike not-so secretly pens the Prince Not-So Charming chapter book series. He was the winner of the 2014 Highlights for Children Fiction Contest, a recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts, and a nominee for a 2017 Pushcart Prize.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Copy won in a book giveaway.

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship by Chitra Soundar

Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Jan. 25, 2019
Official hashtag: #ReadYourWorld

Mangoes, Mischief, and Tales of Friendship: Stories from India

Chitra Soundar, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Dec. 31, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 6-9

Pages: 179

Themes: Folktales, India, Cultural traditions, Humor, Friendship, Multicultural

Synopsis:

Being a wise and just ruler is no easy task. That’s what Prince Veera discovers when he and his best friend, Suku, are given the opportunity to preside over the court of his father, King Bheema. Some of the subjects’ complaints are easily addressed, but others are much more challenging. How should they handle the case of the greedy merchant who wishes to charge people for enjoying the smells of his sweets? And can they prove that an innocent man cannot possibly spread bad luck? Will Prince Veera and Suku be able to settle the dispute between a man and his neighbor to whom he sells a well — but not the water in it? Or solve the mystery of the jewels that have turned into pickles? These stories are inspired by traditional Indian folktales.

Why I like this book:

I read as much as I can about the Indian culture because we adopted a son from India. Chitra Soundar’s chapter book is especially fun because it is about Prince Veera and his commoner friend, trying to outsmart some of the King’s trickiest subjects with wit and a great deal of humor!

Prince Veera and his friend, Suku, appear in every chapter of the book. Like his father the king, the prince is caring and compassionate. Because of his relationship with Suku, Prince Veera is more aware of what it happening in the kingdom than his father. Together, the prince and his friend, are clever, eager to investigate complaints, wise beyond their years, and witty in their dealings with the locals. They also show a great deal of compassion towards the poor and expose those in his father’s kingdom who are  mean and bully others.

Each page is illustrated with pen and ink drawing by Uma Krishnaswamy, which add to the overall feel of the Indian culture and traditions. This book is an excellent read-aloud at home and school. This is a fun book for children to discuss the stories and decide what is fair, right or wrong.

Check out: Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.  Official Hashtag: #ReadYourWorld. There will be links to reviews of picture books, middle grade and YA novels.

Chitra Soundar is originally from the culturally colorful India, where traditions, festivals, and mythology are a way of life. As a child she feasted on folktales and stories from Hindu mythology. As she grew older,  she started making up her own stories. She is the author of the picture book Pattan’s Pumpkin: A Traditional Flood Story from Southern India. Chitra Soundar lives in London.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by publisher.

Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo

Good Rosie!

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Harry Bliss, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 4, 2018

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Dog, Lonely, Friendship, Humor

Opening: Rosie lives with George. Rosie is a dog.

Synopsis:

Beloved storyteller Kate DiCamillo and cartoonist Harry Bliss introduce some delightfully doggy dogs in a warm, funny tale of a timid pup who needs a friend.

Rosie is the adorable and faithful doggy companion to her owner, George. Rosie likes taking walks with George. She chases a squirrel up a tree. George enjoys looking at the cloud pictures, while Rosie wants to see other dogs. She feels lonely.

One day George takes Rosie to the dog park, but the park is full of strange dogs that Rosie doesn’t know. She doesn’t like the dog park and feels lonelier than ever. When big, loud Maurice and small, yippy Fifi bound over and want to play, Rosie’s not sure how to respond. Is there a trick to making friends? And if so, can they all figure it out together?

Why I recommend this book:

This is not your typical dog story. It is sweet story by Kate DiCamillo that is heartwarming, entertaining and has and unexpected ending. Harry Bliss is a cartoonist and his water-color illustrations are expressive, and will delight children. He uses a kid-friendly paneled comics format which accurately depicts the behaviors of dogs and adds to the doggy charm and humor.

Good Rosie is also a perfect gift book for children learning to read. It is a fun read-a-loud during story time. This book is a winner.

Resources/Activities: If you have a dog, play fetch. My poodle goes nuts over his squeaky toes and loves chase them. Take your dog for walks and visit a dog park, if you live near one. If you don’t have a dog, offer to walk or play with your neighbor’s dog.

Kate DiCamillo is the beloved author of many books for young readers, including the Mercy Watson and Tales from Deckawoo Drive series.  Her books FLora & Ulysses and The Tale of Despereaux both received Newbery Medals. A former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she lives in Minneapolis.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt

Speechless

Adam P. Schmitt, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Nov. 6, 2018

Pages: 304

Suitable for Ages: 12 and up

Themes: Death, Grief, Mental Illness, Family Relationships, Speech, Humor

Synopsis:

How do you give a eulogy when you can’t think of one good thing to say? A poignant, funny, and candid look at grief, family secrets, difficult people, and learning to look behind the facade.

As if it weren’t uncomfortable enough being stuffed into last year’s dress pants at his cousin’s wake, thirteen-year-old Jimmy has just learned from his mother that he has to say a few words at the funeral the next day. Why him? What could he possibly say about his cousin, who ruined everything they did? He can’t recall one birthday party, family gathering, or school event with Patrick that didn’t result in injury or destruction.

As Jimmy attempts to navigate the odd social norms of the wake, he draws on humor, heartfelt concern, and a good deal of angst while racking his brain and his memory for a decent and meaningful memory to share. But it’s not until faced with a microphone that the realization finally hits him: it’s not the words that are spoken that matter the most, but those that are truly heard.

What I like about this book:

Adam Schmitt’s complex story deals with bullying, death, grief, suicide and dysfunctional family relationships. These heavy topics are all introduced through the lighthearted perspective of a 13-year-old Jimmy, who narrates the story. Jimmy is one of the best characters I’ve read in a while.  He has a strong voice. Even though he can’t remember one positive memory of his cousin, he delivers a eulogy at the end that readers won’t forget.

It is important to see mental illness addressed in stories. I remember knowing kids like Patrick when I was in school, so this story intrigued me from the start. I appreciate how carefully Schmitt develops his characters. He even makes me care about Patrick by the end of the story.

Patrick is off-the-charts disturbed. He has no friends except his cousin, Jimmy — and that is pushing the envelope. Jimmy can’t recall a single positive memory of his cousin. When he got a toy, Patrick broke it. If he got ice cream, Patrick would find a way to make him drop his cone.  At a Fourth of July party, Patrick injures Jimmy with firecrackers. Patrick’s family doesn’t know what to do about Patrick’s behavior, and their reactions are unpredictable.

Each chapter begins with a small truth that Jimmy learns about funerals: people who show up, people who enjoy the drama of attending a wake, family members who show their true colors, things you may hear that you don’t expect, everyone has a story, and listen more than you speak. Jimmy’s observations offer a lot of comic relief. And he constantly worries that the button on his tight-fitting pants, which is too loose, will finally pop at the wrong moment.

The author took some risks with this story, but the ending makes it worth the read. Even though I would  like to know why Patrick did what he did, it lends itself to some good discussions with middle grade readers. Speechless is an intriguing story.

Adam P. Schmitt has been a middle-school educator for more than fifteen years. Speechless is his debut middle-grade novel. “This story came to me in a single moment while at the funeral of a former student…The characters here don’t represent any one person, but several people in my life who had stories to tell and didn’t know how to find someone to listen.” Schmitt lives in Oswego, Illinois, with his wife and two sons. Visit Schmitt’s website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Prince Not-So Charming Series by Roy L. Hinuss

Prince Not-So Charming: Once Upon a Prank (Book 1)

Roy L. Hinuss, Author

Matt Hunt, Illustrator

Imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, Fiction, Aug. 28, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 5-9

Themes: Prince, Duties, Dreams, Being true to yourself,  Court jester, Humor

Book Synopsis: Turns out being Prince Charming isn’t a fairy tale; it’s more like a fart joke.

Prince Carlos Charles Charming is the youngest in a long line of Royal Prince Charmings. But he’d much rather grow up to be a court jester. He dreams of juggling fire while riding a unicycle instead of fulfilling his princely duty. And the word “duty” always make him think of a poop joke.

But when a dragon is spotted in the Somewhat Enchanted woods, Carlos is going to have to figure out how to be a true Prince Charming fast. Because it’s a slay-or-get-slayed world out there.

Prince Not-So Charming: Her Royal Slyness (Book 2)

Aug. 28, 2018

Book Synopsis: Prince Charming is supposed to rescue a princess―but she has other ideas.

The youngest in a long line of Prince Charmings, Carlos is juggling a lot. That is, he is spending his time juggling balls in the air―instead of doing his princely duties.

But now he has a terrifying mission: There’s a princess trapped in a tower―the Tallest Tower, on Witch Island, surrounded by Witch Lake. You don’t need me to tell you how scary that sounds.

But Carlos soon discovers that rescuing a damsel in distress requires a damsel who’s in distress. This princess doesn’t need to be rescued―and definitely doesn’t need a prince charming.

Prince Not-So Charming: The Dork Knight (Book 3)

Nov. 13, 2018

Book Synopsis: Prince Carlos figuring out how to be charming even when locked in mortal combat.

Prince Carlos Charles Charming has a secret: He’d much rather tell jokes than be a prince. But when you’re the heir to Faraway Kingdom, you don’t always get what you want.

Which is why Carlos has to learn how to joust.

Carlos is surprisingly great at jousting, from spearing haystacks to smashing watermelons. But when a tournament rolls around, suddenly Carlos realizes he has to actually point his lance at other people―and they’ll point theirs back!

Prince Not-So Charming: The Dork Knight shows it’s hard to live up to the fairy tale―and that the best way to win a contest can be embracing your own dorkiness.

Prince Not-So Charming: Happily Ever Laughter (Book 4)

Nov. 13, 2018

Book Synopsis: Prince Charming faces his greatest challenge yet, a fancy party.

Prince Carlos Charles Charming isn’t the princeliest of princes. But he might be the funniest.

Unfortunately, being hilarious won’t help much at a birthday party thrown by an evil queen with no sense of humor. And if Carlos, his pet dragon, and his friend Pinky don’t bring the right presents and fail to dance perfectly, the evil queen might declare war.

Can Carlos and his friends keep the party from turning into a disaster? Who are we kidding? The real question is: After starting a food fight, can they save their kingdom?

Prince Not-So Charming: Happily Ever Laughter is for every kid who worries about how to survive their next party.

Why I like this series:

Prince Not-So Charming is perfect series for middle grade readers (5-9) and for reluctant readers. Packed with fun poop jokes and word puns, Hinuss’ storytelling is quirky, highly entertaining and will tickle reader’s imaginations.

The stories are character driven, with a determined Prince Carlos who will not give up on his dream to be a court jester. He is a loveable prince who only wants to make people laugh and feel happy. He has zero interest in dragon slaying training, rescuing princesses who don’t want to be saved, jousting and attending fancy parties. In fact he’s afraid of heights and quick sand, and hates armor, helmets, swords, hatchets, bows and arrows and daggers. But he does like a good food fight. Prince Carlos has his own weapon — his wit.

Roy L. Hinuss’ hilarious illustrated series encourages kids to be themselves, use their imaginations,  pursue their own interests and conquer their fears and dorkiness. Prince Carlos learns that he’s not alone. There are dragons and princesses who harbor passions of their own and become unlikely friends and allies. And the dragon, Smudge and Princess Pinky, are characters that appear in each new story.

This light-hearted and wacky series will be a hit among young readers. The plots are clever and original  with the right amount of adventure and suspense that will keep kids engaged and turning pages.  Matt Hunt’s pen and ink illustrations contribute to this fun and upbeat story. The colorful and comical covers will surely draw readers to the books. Make sure you read the off-beat interview with Roy L Hinuss at the end of the second book.

Roy L. Hinuss is the authorized biographer of the Charming Royal Family. He is also fond of the occasional fart joke. When he isn’t writing about Prince Carlos Charles Charming’s many adventure in the Faraway Kingdom, he can be found cataloging his collection of celebrity toenail clippings.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from purchased copies.