Kehret, Peg. Ghost Dog Secrets.
When Rusty sees a German shepherd chained out in the rain with no food or water, he worries about it, but when his teacher goads the class into action about "somebody should do something" and the class starts to collect money and supplies for a local animal shelter, he knows that he is the one who must do something. He tries going through all of the official channels, going so far as to start documenting the neglect when he can't get help, and then with his friend Andrew decides to take the dog, whom they name Ra, and hide him in their club house. They still try to get help, but things get bad when the dog's owner finds out the boys took him and start menacing them. Will they ever be able to take care of the dog AND not be stalked by a drug-crazed maniac?
Strengths: As always, Kehret delivers a top-shelf mystery and suspense novel. The relationships between Rusty and Ra, and Rusty and Andrew, are realistic and endearing. The class's social activism is a good example.
Weaknesses: This is a little heavy on the message, and the interpolation of a ghost dog that leads Rusty at various points is just unnecessary. The finding of the meth lab, and the abrupt dealing with the classmate whose father is implicated in running it, is a bit strange. While these things made the book seem slightly off to me, I don't think students will notice.
Ignatow, Amy. The Popularity Papers.
5th graders Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang want to be popular, so they keep a journal (complete with pictures) chronicling what the popular students do and their own attempts to repeat these things. Sometimes this ends badly, such as when Lydia tries to bleach her hair, but often leads them in new paths, as when Julie gets on the field hockey team and also likes a boy in their class. They get in trouble several times, and their friendship goes through a rocky patch, but everything works out, even if they don't suddenly become popular.
Strengths: For girls who like Wimpy Kid or Marissa Moss' work , this will be a big hit. I was enthralled by how they were able to show blue ballpoint pen so clearly on the page. I liked how the differences in families and individuals were shown and celebrated to a certain degree, but did not become the whole thrust of the story. (Julie has two dads, for example, but Lydia is being raised by a single mother.)
Weaknesses: Horrible binding, this time by Amulet/Abrams. Wasn't exactly my cup of tea, with the pictures and the hand writing, but there is an undeniable appeal, and I liked it better than The Dork Diaries.