The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld by J&P Voelkel

If you have been following my blog for any length of time then you know that I have a special place in my heart for books that focus on Mesoamerica/Mesoamerican culture.  When I saw that Egmont was publishing The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld by J&P Voelkel, I was very excited. A combination of Percy Jackson and Mayan culture? Sign me up! Thankfully, I was not disappointed. This is a fantastic adventure book that I highly recommend to middle school and YA readers!

Max is looking forward to a summer vacation in Italy. But when his academic parents come home and inform him of a sudden change of plans- they will be canceling the Italian vacation and taking a research trip to the (fictional) country of San Xavier. A seemingly sudden change of heart sends Max to meet them in San Xavier a few weeks later. Max arrives in the rainy country of San Xavier only to find that his parents have disappeared. Mysterious Uncle Ted becomes Max’s de facto guardian, and the search for his parents begins. At the time of their disappearance, they were exploring an ancient Mayan pyramid deep in the rain forest. While things get stranger and stranger, Max soon finds himself lost in the rain forest that may be responsible for his parents’ apparent death.

Love, love, love this book! Like Riordan’s Percy Jackson, The Jaguar Stones is a rollicking adventure.  Along the way the reader is immersed in Mayan culture.  I know in my own experience, Mesoamerican culture is frequently skipped over in ancient history curriculums so students will be very interested in the mythology and culture strewn throughout the story.  At the same time, Max is easy to relate to.  But my own favorite character is Lola, a Mayan girl who Max meets in his search for his missing parents.  (Yes, there are still Mayans!)  Lola is spunky, brave, and a little fresh at times.  A great female character for a great adventure.

Another great aspect of the book is the appendix at the end.  Including calendar explanations and a recipe, it really enhanced the story.  The Mayan culture is fascinating and the Voelkel’s expertise really shines through in the text.  Hopefully, this series will catch on and today’s students will become more interested in Mesoamerican culture.  Come on- in many ways they were far more advanced than their European counterparts!  I am eagerly looking forward to the next installment in the The Jaguar Stones series!

*review copy courtesy of publisher

The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park

Young-sup is a young Korean boy who loves to fly kites with his older brother, Kee-sup.  As the second son, Young-sup knows that his duty is to helps his older brother.  Kee-sup will always represent the family.  But while Kee-sup is a gifted artist, Young-sup is talented kite fighter.  When the annual kite fighting contest arrives, the boys know that with their combined talents they can win.  But Korean tradition mandates that only the oldest son can fly the kite.  If Kee-sup flies, both boys know that they will lose.  But then the young king sees how talented Young-sup is and steps in.

This small book can be read in as little as an hour.  But Linda Sue Park gives the reader a glimpse of life in 15th century, which is something I am not familiar with.  I imagine most middle schoolers aren’t familiar with the setting either, making this a perfect historical fiction novel.  And while the setting seems to be so far away, the young characters are easy to relate to, even centuries later.  This isn’t an action-filled story, but I think it will attract a lot of fans. The Kite Fighters is a book that should be in every classroom library.

*review copy courtesy of the publisher

This Is Me From Now On by Barbara Dee

Evie isn’t the biggest fan of her new neighbor, Francesca.  Francesca is wild, funny, over-the-top, and a little crazy.  She doesn’t follow any rules besides the one she makes for herself.  Living with her aunt, she dresses older, inventing her own fashion rules.  But Francesca is one of those people who manages to win you over, despite your reservations.  Before she knows it, Evie is actually enjoying Francesca’s say what you think, live how you want lifestyle.  Throw in a mandatory school group project and a little matchmaking and you have the makings a perfect tween romp.

I really enjoyed this book.  Barbara Dee has been a favorite in my sixth grade classroom for the past two years so I was happy when she sent me a copy of This Is Me From Now On to review for the blog. Dee captures the angst of middle school girls perfectly. I think every tween girl experiences that friendship that seems to make her other friends jealous. Everyone has that one friend that’s just a little wilder and a little crazier than the other kids around her. Dee’s characters are authentic and reminded me a lot of the girls I teach. Their friendships and drama ring 100% true! I would highly recommend Barbara Dee’s book to any middle school girl, especially fans of realistic fiction.

*review copy courtesy of the author

Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee

Poppy knows exactly how her life is going to go.  After middle school comes high school, then college, then veterinary school.  She wants to be a vet just like her Uncle Sanjay.  So while her parents are in India visiting family, she spends a few weeks on Nisqually Island, shadowing her uncle at his veterinary practice.  It turns out that being a vet isn’t exactly how Poppy thought it would be.  It doesn’t come as naturally as she thought it would.

Through episodic chapters that focus on different patients at the clinic, we see Poppy struggle with her life-plan.  Does she want to be a vet?  Is she even any good at it? Seaglass Summer is a quiet book that makes you feel like you are on Nisqually Island with Poppy and Uncle Sanjay.

I loved this little book.  It’s a perfect summer read for middle grade readers.  The episodic chapters lend themselves especially well to reading a bit at at time.  And it’s nice to read about a tween who thinks they have their life figured out only to be thrown a curveball.  While Poppy decides she still may become a vet at the end, it’s a long journey.  She struggles more than she ever imagined she would and it really throw her for a loop.  I think middle grade readers will appreciate Poppy’s struggles.  Plus, there are a lot of funny moments, too!

*Review copy courtesy of the publisher

Back in Action….For Real!

Apologies for the extended blog break.  While I figured I would be posting only sporadically in June due to the typical “end of the year” cleanup, it intensified beyond my preparations.  But school ended this week, I ran around like a nut finishing up some other plans, and now I finally have settled into “summer”.  This week I am diving into my summer reading, diving back into blogging, and getting ready for next year!

Coming soon….

I will be back over the next few days.  I am consumed with shutting down school, entering grades, and packing up my classroom right now.  I barely even have time to read!

Shakespeare Bats Cleanup by Ronald Koertge

Kevin is a baseball player.  He loves baseball, loves his team, and it is a huge part of his life. So when a case of mono results in a baseball ban for a few weeks he isn’t sure what to do.  His father, a writer, gives him a collection of poems and Kevin uses it as a mentor text as he tries his hand at poetry.  At first, it’s just a way to stay busy when he is bedridden, but then he begins to enjoy it.  Kevin writes about the recent death of his mother, his love of baseball, and his thoughts about girls.

I really enjoyed this book.  Verse novels are a big hit with my students this year but it seems that a lot of verse novels are more girl-friendly than boy-friendly.  Many of my boys search out quick reads, especially those related to sports. Shakespeare Bats Cleanup looks like it is perfect for those boys.

*Copy purchased by me

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