Book review: A Drop of Hope, by Keith Calabrese

Calabrese, Keith. A Drop of Hope. Scholastic Press, 2019. $16.99. ISBN 9781338233209. 305 pgs. Ages 8-12. P8 Q8

Ernest, Ryan and Lizzy are middle school students in a small, struggling town in Ohio. When they learn about local folklore describing a “wishing well,” they find it and things begin to change! Calabrese does a great job of capturing the ambiance of a small American town, its school, and its diverse inhabitants. The story’s theme is how small actions can make change in ways we don’t even think of. The kids realize that people they know need help in various ways; they don’t know exactly how to approach the problems, but their good intentions and small actions do help greatly in the end. I liked that it isn’t clear if there is some magic going on or not (at least at first), that there is an old mystery that gets solved, and that odd combinations of characters end up developing positive relationships.

VERDICT: This is a wonderful book for readers who need to read something hopeful, kind and uplifting. I think we could all use more of this these days.

January 2020 review by Carol Schramm.

Book review: Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks, by Jason Reynolds

Reynolds, Jason. Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99. ISBN 9781481438308. 188 pages. Ages 10-14. P8 Q8

This book is a set of ten separate short stories, but the characters are connected; they all go to the same school. Each chapter is titled with the name of a street, and the stories are about the kids walking home to that part of the neighborhood. There are chapters about friends, bullies, family drama and first loves, all told through the eyes of young people. Some are laugh out loud funny, and others are heart breaking. On Placer St. we meet the the Low Cuts, four friends with many things in common including qualifying for free lunch, and parents who were cancer survivors. These shared experiences made them tough, yet we learn how leaning on friends makes tough times better. The stories capture the social lives of inner city middle school students perfectly. Verdict: a great book for middle school and the J Fiction section of the library. Friends play such a huge role in the lives of middle schoolers and this book focuses on those important relationships.

December 2019 review by Denyse Marsh.

Book review: Spindrift and the Orchid, by Emma Trevayne

Trevayne, Emma. Spindrift and the Orchid.  Simon and Schuster, 2018.  ISBN 978-1-4814-6259-4.  $17.99.  256 pages.  Ages 11-13.  Q8 P8

Spindrift is a middle school student whose been orphaned since she was a baby.  Her grandfather has cared for her since the day she floated to shore in a boat by herself.  The ship her mother was captain of sinking in the distance.  The adventure begins when a man comes to her grandfather’s magical trinket shop asking for a black orchid.  Around the same time Spindrift’s grandfather shares letters to him from Spindrift’s mother detailing her parent’s quest to unite the orchids (7 orbs that contain the essence of a powerful sage.  Whoever controls the orb gains the power of the sage) and gain their power.  Ultimately ending in their demise.  On Spindrift’s quest to find the orbs to keep them from someone who would abuse their power, she follows in her mother’s footsteps.  On her journey she takes her two best friends who wouldn’t think of letting Spindrift go on such a dangerous mission alone.  Their friendship is challenged when it becomes apparent Spindrift is putting the quest for the orchids above their friendship.  All three have tough choices and have to ask themselves: Is power worth more than friendship and is forgiveness possible in the most unforgivable situation?

Verdict:  Lots of adventure, magic, and discovering the true meaning of friendship in this book.   A great addition to middle grade libraries.

December 2019 review by Terri Lippert.

Book review: Charlie Numb3rs and the Woolly Mammoth, by Ben and Tonya Mezrich

Mezrich, Ben and Tonya Mezrich. Charlie Numb3rs and the Woolly Mammoth. (Charlie Numbers series, book 3.) Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019. $17.99. 183 pages. ISBN 9781534441002. Ages 8-12. P7 Q7

Charlie is on a Cargo ship being chased and heading for freezing water. He has two choices; he can be caught or he can jump into freezing water. The adventure then goes back two weeks to when Charlie and his friends, all Whiz Kids, find a bone while they are on a field trip to the Boston Public Gardens. Stumped by what the object is, they take it to a science professor at Harvard to be identified. This discovery leads to more questions and new friends who are also scientists. The new friends include Janice and Rod. While Janice is sweet and kind, Rod is a bully and mean. They work together to solve the mystery of the “bone” and why it was found in Boston. The cast of friends include a black girl in a wheelchair (Janice), a Japanese boy, two redheaded boys, boys from a wealthy suburb and some from the city, which offer a diversity in characters. The friends use carbon dating, Boston trivia, and science factoids as they seek to figure out the mystery. Fossils and rocks are highlighted in the story and a rock is actually a clue to the origin of how the “bone” arrived at the Boston Public Gardens. While Rod is a bully, as the story develops, Rod’s backstory comes to light and the dynamics between the friends change in a positive direction. This is the third novel In the Charlie Numbers series, but can stand alone.

Verdict: If you have a child interested in fossils, rocks, carbon dating or science, they would enjoy this adventure.

The reader will learn a lot about fossils, Africa, elephant tusk trade and science as they read this mystery. While the book appears to be lighthearted, one will learn a lot. The themes of friendship, giving others a chance and looking beyond the obvious come through strongly in this book. This would be a great read aloud for a teacher or a good book for families to read together.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Spy Who Loved Ice Cream, by Sam Hay, illustrated by Marek Jagucki

Hay, Sam. The Spy who Loved Ice Cream. (Spy Penguins, book 2.) Illustrated by Marek Jagucki. Feiwel and Friends, 2019. $13.99. ISBN 9781250188588. 225 pages. Ages 7-10. P7 Q7

Penguins, spies, ice cream and a mom who was an award-winning store detective set the stage for an adventure. Jackson, otherwise known as Secret Agent 00Zero and his friend, Quigley go on a quest to figure out why his uncle is committing crimes. Will Jackson be able to solve the mystery before his uncle is arrested? Black and white illustrations enhance the text. Easy read, just the right amount of suspense to keep the reader wondering what will happen and be able to predict a few things that will happen. This is book 2 in the Spy Penguins series, but it can stand alone.

Verdict: This easy read will entertain and keep the reader captivated. I like the emphasis of believing in his uncle and working together to prove his innocence. This is a fun, lighthearted adventure that will keep the reader engaged.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: The Fast and the Furriest, by Deanna Kent, illustrated by Neil Hooson

Kent, Deanna. The Fast and the Furriest. Illustrated by Neil Hooson. (Snazzy Cat Capers, #2.) Imprint, 2019. $13.99. ISBN 9781250143471. 211 pages. Ages 7-10.  P7 Q7

Ophelia is a cat burglar who works for the FFBI. Cat burglars treat each heist as an opportunity to hone their skills. They return what they take. Ophelia’s archenemy is Pierre von Rascal of Thievesylvania. When Opelia is sent on a mission, Pierre and CCIA dogs are hot on her tail. To add more humor, a fish is Ophelia’s inventor and works with her on the mission. Full of cat puns and cat related words this adventure will be sure to entertain and engage readers. Graphic novel style illustrations are interspersed throughout the book, making this a great book for graphic novel enthusiasts to transition to novels. This is book 2 in the series, but can easily stand alone.

Verdict: If you have a reader who likes graphic novels and cats, they will enjoy this book. The balance of chapter book and graphic novel is perfect. I recommend this book.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.

Book review: Amelia Earhart and the Flying Chariot, by Steve Sheinkin, illustrated by Neil Swaab

Sheinkin, Steve. Amelia Earhart and the Flying Chariot. Illustrated by Neil Swaab. (Time Twisters series, book 4.) Roaring Brook Press, 2019. $13.99. ISBN 9781250148995. 157 pages. Ages 7-10. P7 Q7

Abby and Doc have the ability to go back in time through a cardboard box in the library where their mom works. However, the box works both ways and people from the past are able to come to the library as well. When Abby finds a pair of goggles where her glasses were, this starts an adventure to visit the owner of the goggles, Amelia Earhart. As the adventure continues, it is obvious that someone is messing with time, who could it be? There are twists and turns which will bring the reader to interesting places in history. The ending is especially delightful. The illustrations are line drawings and spread throughout the book. The end of the book includes a section titled “Untwisting history” where the author includes true facts about Amelia Earhart. This book is unique in that it is nonfiction/fiction all in one. Even though this book is the fourth in the series, it can stand alone. The author references adventures from past books in the series in this book, which may spark the readers interest and encourage them to read the rest of the series.

Verdict: Readers who are interested in past historical figures but also like adventures and imagination will enjoy this time travel book. This is a fun way for readers to learn about historical figures. I recommend this book.

November 2019 review by Tami Harris.