Tag Archives: middle grade

The Flash: Hocus Pocus

Author: Barry Lyga

The Flash (Media Tie-In Novels), vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Flashpoint never happened, and Barry and his friends go on about their lives saving the people of Central City, never knowing the heartache of different choices in a different timeline. But in this timeline, there’s plenty of trouble to go around. Central City finds its citizens at the beck and call of a street magician styling himself “Hocus Pocus”–and really, the nerve of him, going and naming himself before Cisco gets a chance to! Although Hocus Pocus’s magic tricks are nothing impressive, his ability to control people and events around him–from getting people for blocks around to applaud to making trees move at his will–certainly seems almost like magic. But Barry is not about to accept something so implausible as the solution; there has to be a reasonable explanation of this magician’s powers. The crew at Star Labs had better be finding out a solution quickly though, because Hocus Pocus has managed to gain power over The Flash, and there’s no telling how much trouble he could cause with a speedster in his control.

I’m a big fan of The CW’s version of The Flash, which features a fabulous cast, a great sense of humor, and an excellent balance of action and drama. Plus, I’ve enjoyed the writing of Barry Lyga in the past. So I was pretty thrilled to find that Lyga had written the first volume of a media tie-in series for the show. And generally speaking, I was quite pleased with Hocus Pocus. It reads very much like an episode of the show, both with the arrival and subsequent handling of the villain and with the family drama that tends to go on at Star Labs. And of course, the element of angst that arises when things get complicated–can’t have a proper Flash story without a touch of angst. The characters are well done and keep in character nicely. Sure, there weren’t any moments where (like in a good fanfic) I was just like “ooh, that’s so such-and-such” and got all full of feels or anything. But on the other hand, there weren’t any grating moments where I had to wonder if the author had ever even watched the show, either. There was just generally a stronger focus in this particular story on the action, the plot, than on the feels . . . which is fine, although the feels are kind of my favorite part. I found it very interesting that they chose to put this in an AU/alternate timeline in which Flashpoint didn’t happen. My guess would be that this is to allow the tie-in series an element of autonomy and perhaps its own larger-scale plot, since its being an alternate timeline didn’t really affect much of anything that happened in this volume. I’m curious to see what happens with that in future volumes. I did enjoy where this story was placed chronologically in the lives of the characters–for one thing, having H. R. as part of the cast just makes everything more fun. Recommended for fans of the CW series . . . not sure how well it would hold up for fans of The Flash as a general media franchise, although Lyga is reputed to have been a fan of the comics since he was a kid, so. . . .

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Sixth Grade Detective (Text-Based Game)

Producer: Choice of Games

Author: Logan Hughes

My rating: 3 of 5

Pull out your magnifying glass and get ready to solve some mysteries. Okay, okay, you’re way too cool for that old-fashioned magnifying glass stuff. But when mysteries start popping up around your school, you are exactly the person for the case.

Sixth Grade Detective is another text-based game along the lines of Choice of Robots, utilizing the same game engine–so no music or visuals, just a story that your choices influence, powered largely by your own imagination. I really love the concept and have greatly enjoyed other games in this vein. This particular one is pretty decent, although generally a bit simplistic. The mysteries aren’t particularly hard, and although your choices certainly influence how the game progresses, there isn’t so much of a branching plotline as in, say, Choice of Robots. You get more choices as to what your attitudes towards events and authority are, what kind of relationships you’re going to build, who you take to the dance . . . that sort of thing. Not a ton of replay value, though. I do have to say that this would make a great introduction to this sort of game for a younger player; I mean, the main character is a middle-schooler, the story’s generally fairly clean, and the challenge level is approachable for a beginner. So yes, Sixth Grade Detective wasn’t my favorite of this game set, but it was interesting and would be a good choice for kids.

You can find out more at Steam or Choice of Games website.

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My Life as Alien Monster Bait

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

It’s every kid’s dream, right? Get chosen to be in a movie, and instantly transform from all-school reject to everyone’s new best friend? When uber-klutz Wally McDoogle manages to land a role in an up-and-coming monster movie, his life certainly undergoes an extreme transformation. About the only person who doesn’t treat him differently is his best friend Opera . . . only Wally’s pretty sure he’s too cool to be seen around Opera anymore. The nerdiness may be catching, after all. But when the filming goes haywire (as it is so prone to do around him), Wally finds out just how valuable true friendship is–and how fleeting  those “friendships” based on fame.

As with the first book in this series (My Life as a Smashed Burrito with Extra Hot Sauce), My Life as Alien Monster Bait is a great Christian middle-grade story that manages to teach important lessons without being stuffy or “preachy” in the slightest. Between Wally’s escapades, the offbeat stories he writes, and the quirky first-person writing, you’ve got a story that’s absurdly funny (even to an adult, but even more so as a kid). But in the midst of the humor, you’ve got some excellent lessons on pride, true friendship, and that more challenging concept to nail down–not treating people differently just because they have more fame or money or coolness points or whatever. Myers brings us a blatantly Christian story with solid life lessons . . . that’s also immensely enjoyable and laugh-inducing. Definitely recommended.

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Yobgorgle: Mystery Monster of Lake Ontario

Author: Daniel Pinkwater

My rating: 4 of 5

Getting left with his Uncle Mel for 6 weeks over summer break wasn’t too bad–other than trying to survive solely on junk food. But then, when Uncle Mel got dragged away to Rochester for a 2-week training session for his work, Eugene got dragged along as well and found himself going mad with boredom . . . that is, until he saw a documentary movie with his uncle about a man searching Lake Ontario for a monster called the Yobgorgle. That’s when Eugene has the bright idea to get in touch with this guy, Ambrose McFwain, who (let’s face it) is rather mad but also quite interesting, and who hires Eugene as his assistant on the spot. The summer’s about to get a lot less boring and a lot more wacky.

Daniel Pinkwater is one of those underappreciated authors who can take the absolute zaniest things and make something absolutely captivating out of them. Yobgorgle is a tall tale about a kid and an inept monster hunter that gets taller the longer it goes. All told in first-person from a twelve-year-old’s point of view. And Pinkwater nails the twelve-year-old part impressively; there’s a dry, cutting observation to the way Eugene views the world, with none of the filters and social niceties that adults use in their way of expressing themselves. No, Eugene tells it like he sees it, for better or for worse. And the situations he finds himself in just keep getting more and more spectacularly strange as he goes. It’s all very funny and engaging. It’s also interesting to read this book today; it was originally published in 1979, and it’s telling. There are so many little cultural snippets that loudly proclaim that this is a story of a bygone era . . . the clothing, the emphasis on vending machines (Uncle Mel’s job is working on them), but perhaps most of all the way a twelve-year-old kid is able to just roam around Rochester, New York on his own. It’s an interesting peek into the past, although with the specifics of this book, it’s a past that never was. Still, another zany, all-ages-friendly offering from an amazing author; Yobgorgle definitely goes on my recommended list.

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My Life as a Smashed Burrito With Extra Hot Sauce

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Wally knew his summer was going downhill as soon as his dad started throwing around phrases like “great outdoors” and “think manly thoughts.” He just didn’t know how bad it was going to get until he stumbled onto the bus to “Camp Whacko” (as it was fondly nicknamed) and into the bad graces of notorious bully Gary the Gorilla. Somehow (yes, his ego tends to be his undoing), his fellow campers convince Wally to stand up to Gary in an all-out camp war–pranks in the middle of the night, traps on the trail, that sort of thing. Only, all of that doesn’t go very well with all this teaching on wisdom that Wally’s been hearing from his camp leader, and at some point he’s going to have to make a defining choice.

I discovered Bill Myers’ Wally McDoogle books back when I was still in, like, middle school. They were fabulous then, and they continue to be a joy even today. They manage to be distinctively Christian middle-grade fiction, with solid teaching (in this volume, focusing on making wise choices, choosing good friends, and even loving your enemy), while still being relatable and impossibly funny. Wally is just so utterly clumsy and has such an over-the-top sarcastic sense of humor (and yes, everything’s told from a first-person perspective, which in this story definitely works), that you can’t help but laugh. The collection of circumstances as a whole is so improbable as to be basically implausible. And yet, the attitudes Wally has, the bad choices he makes, and the hard decisions he’s faced with, are completely realistic–they’re the sort of challenges that real people are faced with on a everyday basis. Which (besides the gut-wrenching laughter) is what makes this story so great; it equips kids to face real choices and helps them think through things so that they are more ready when they’re faced with this stuff in real life. Definitely recommended.

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The Trash Krakken (Graphic Novel)

Created by: Thomas Astruc

Miraculous Adventures, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

In this adorable graphic novel, it’s business as usual for Paris’s favorite superheroes. Hawkmoth’s sending weird akumas after their miraculous. Chloe is being a spoiled brat. Master Fu is wise and enigmatic. Chat Noir is hitting on Ladybug. Marinette still can’t speak to Adrien without turning into a beet-red, stammering mess. Oh, and the superheroes of America are calling these two heroes in as backup against a creepy monster that’s terrifying New York City.

In The Trash Krakken, we are given new stories that are very much in keeping (generally speaking) with the original cartoon version of Miraculous Ladybug. The stories, villains, and sometimes settings are new, but the style, the age level, all of that sort of thing are consistent. You even get the set phrases and transformation sequences from the cartoon, just in graphic novel format. I do think that the second half of this book, featuring the story set in New York, is a bit different in style, but it’s neat in that Chat Noir and Ladybug are still very much in their usual character, and the different setting only serves to emphasize the cool aspects of said character. The art style is very cute. I admit, I don’t care for the art in the prologue (although the story is cute), but after that, it settles into the style featured on the cover which, while a bit “looser” and “sloppier” that I typically prefer manages to be pretty adorable, dynamic, bright, and fitting with the characters and the story. Recommended, and especially nice if you’ve got younger readers who like the show and/or want to read more graphic novels; it’s actually age-appropriate for anyone who’s old enough to watch the cartoon.

Written by Nolwenn Pierre, Bryan Seaton, Nicole D’Andria, Thomas Astruc, Mélanie Duval, Fred Lenoir, & Sébastien Thibaudeau/Illustrated by Brian Hess/Lettering by Justin Birch/Coloring by Darné Lang

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When You Reach Me

Author: Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up, Miranda’s life has been pretty normal. Her childish yet bright single mother falling in love, wavering over whether to give Richard (Mr. Perfect) a key to their New York apartment, getting all excited over entering a TV game show, making plans for what to do with the winnings before she ever gets on the show. Her best friend Sal who has always been there for her, growing up together, like two sides of the same coin. But her sixth grade year, Miranda’s life begins to fall apart. Sal stops talking to her for no obvious reason, and suddenly nothing seems certain anymore. And then she starts getting these messages, small notes giving her instructions, telling her things about the future that no one should have known, claiming that the writer has come back in time to prevent something awful–and that her following these instructions is vital to this happening.

When You Reach Me is one of those unexpected, brilliant finds that just go to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Although the whole Newbery Award should have probably been a good indicator of that. It’s like this fabulous mashup of the things I love best of the writings of Madeleine L’Engle (no surprise, since she’s clearly an influencer of Stead’s writing), E. L. Konigsburg, and Frank Cottrell Boyce. The writing itself is just really good, for one, with layers of depth in the characters and little observations of the everyday thrown into the mix and with a lot of character development and growth and self-realization over the course of the story. That in itself would make for a great story, but then you throw in all the time-travel stuff and the mystery surrounding that, and the book goes to a whole new level in my mind. I liked that attention was given to the effects of time travel, but essentially zero mention was made of the actual mechanics; it wouldn’t work in every situation, but for this story, it was the best possible way to handle the topic. The inclusion of all the references to A Wrinkle in Time really helped to set the stage and explain the time travel better, so that was nicely done as well. Oh, and this is an actual instance of first-person, present-tense that actually works; it feels like reading a letter for the most part, maybe that letter Miranda was supposed to write. Recommended particularly for middle-grade readers, but this is one of those stories that surpasses its recommended grade range, so if you like the above authors’ works and are interested in time travel-related stories, When You Reach Me may be worth trying.

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