Tag Archives: middle grade

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

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.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Review

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Book Review

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Rapunzel’s Revenge (Graphic Novel)

Authors: Shannon Hale & Dean Hale

Illustrator: Nathan Hale

My rating: 3.5 of 5

For most of her childhood, Rapunzel lives a life of luxury with her mother, Mother Gothel–only she mustn’t ever look over the massive “garden wall” surrounding her home, she mustn’t question her mother, and she mustn’t mention her odd memory-like dreams. But on her twelfth birthday, Rapunzel just can’t contain herself anymore. She uses her impressive lasso skills (taught her by one of Mother Gothel’s guards, a kind man by the name of Mason) to climb the wall–only to find a world of desolation and slavery, which she soon finds is controlled by her mother . . . or, well, the person she thought was her mother. It turns out, she was taken from her real mother when she was just a little kid, and her actual mother is a slave in the mines now. In an attempt to control Rapunzel, Mother Gothel has her imprisoned in a tall tree that she’s created with her growth magic. But Rapunzel’s not one to sit demurely waiting for a rescuer, nor is she one to leave her real family in trouble.

I’ve seen some pretty interesting retellings before, but Rapunzel’s Revenge has got to be one of the most interesting and frankly bizarre to come my way in quite some time. It’s a western fantasy/weird west remix of the tale, complete with deserts, lassos, and outlaws–but with magic, too! And it’s not just a straight-up Rapunzel retelling, either; you’ve got Jack and the Beanstalk, for sure, and certain elements from a handful of other classic fairy tales. It’s pretty crazy, really, but in an interesting way. Rapunzel is an excellent example of the modernized empowered “princess,” a girl who’s smart and determined and takes matters into her own hands. Stubborn and kind of awkward, too, with enough personality to make her a sympathetic character, not just a modern stereotype. Her friend Jack makes a nice counterpart, with both of them challenging each other, forcing character growth and revealing character traits to the reader. As for the plot itself, it’s mostly a big rescue journey/adventure from the point where Rapunzel rescues herself and meets Jack–and it’s at this point that the western elements really start to show. It wasn’t the greatest plot ever, but a solid middle-grade story, still, plus a creative outtake on the whole retelling thing. The art is honestly not my style, but it works well enough for the story and I don’t have anything objectively negative to say about it–it’s just not what I prefer for graphic novels personally. I’m not sure I’d recommend Rapunzel’s Revenge for everyone, but if you like graphic novels and are interested in a quirky retelling with a strong female lead, it’s a story you just might enjoy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Broxo (Graphic Novel)

Author/Illustrator: Zack Giallongo

My rating: 3 of 5

Warrior princess Zora has left her home without her family’s knowledge, traveling to the distant land of the Perytons, hoping to win an alliance for their peoples. But she arrives to find a land deserted and desolate . . . or, well, deserted except for the monsters and zombies that keep trying to eat her. Then this boy shows up, all full of attitude, saves her life then just walks away with his huge monster/pet. Obviously, Zora’s going to follow him in an attempt to get some answers. But the boy, Broxo, who boldly calls himself king of the land, either has no answers or is unwilling to offer any. Clearly, something strange is going on here, and despite being warned to leave, Zora’s not about to go without getting to the root of what’s happened here.

For first impressions, Broxo wasn’t a bad graphic novel, but it didn’t really grip me or win my affections either. It’s got a fairly contemporary graphic novel style, as opposed to a classic comic book or a manga style. The visuals work, for the most part, although I must confess that it took me a moment to realize that Zora was actually a girl. In general, the style is just kind of more “boyish” if you will, rougher lines, strong movement, that sort of thing. If this were a manga, it would be distinctly shounen. The colorization supports that same feeling, although this is definitely intentional, with dark, neutral colors being dominant in this desolate place. The characters, again, weren’t bad but didn’t particularly win me over either. Partially, this is because the reader is dumped into the story at a point where everything is happening to the characters, but you’ve got no backstory, no reason to relate to the characters, nothing. So I didn’t really feel for their situation like I should have, at least not until much later in the story. Zora and Broxo’s relations with each other were weird, too–at one point awkwardly distant, at another fighting or working alongside each other as if they’d known each other for years. I guess part of that may be intentional, since they do seem to be at that awkward age where emotions and social skills are just all over the place anyhow, but it still made their relationship kind of hard to understand. And the whole mystery thing was weird, although some of the adventure parts of the story were interesting in a shounen sort of way. So yeah, Broxo definitely isn’t my favorite graphic novel ever, but it wasn’t especially bad either. . . .

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review