It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader. It's also Nonfiction Monday at Biblio Links.
Congratulations to Julee at Book Egg for winning the copy of Sidekicked, and thanks to Walden Pond Press for offering to send a copy to the winner!
McLean, Hope. Catch Us if You Can (Jewel Society#1)
1 June 2013, Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC from Netgalley. com
Jasmine, Lili, Erin and Willow are on the Washington Jewels quiz bowl team, and bound and determined to win the championship even though they are new to the game and the best team, the Atkinson Rivals, are as good as they are evil. With the help of their advisor, Ms. Keatley, they work hard to improve their knowledge base, but when a valuable necklace that belonged to Martha Washington is stolen from their school library, they turn their attention to detecting. They find proof that the Rivals didn't have sound alibis for when the necklace disappeared, but when they tell their principal, all that happens is that the Atkinson principal slams them in the local news. Redoubling their efforts, they find more clues about where the Rivals may have hidden the necklace, as well as information that Martha Washington had three other jewels that would be a danger when stored together. Can the Jewels beat the Rivals, both at the quiz bowl tournament, but also at thievery?
Strengths: I liked that the girls were very interested in academics, and that they all had different strengths. Willow, who is African American, is good at soccer and math; Lili is Asian and likes fashion design and art; Erin covers history, and Jasmine is good at science. The writing goes down smoothly, and I can see this series being a best seller at school book fairs with my girls who love clue oriented mysteries featuring girls. The D.C. setting adds a lot to the educational value! I will definitely buy this series in prebind when available.
Weaknesses: I know that four seems to be the standard number of characters to have in a middle grade ensemble cast (Kimmel's Forever Four, Simon's The Cupcake Diaries), but it's a lot to keep straight. The multicultural aspect seems a bit contrived, but this is set near D.C., so it's always possible. The most evil girl from Atkinson is French-- is that politically correct?
McLean, Hope. Diamonds are a Thief's Best Friend
30 July 2013, Scholastic Paperbacks
E ARC from Netgalley.com
The Martha Washington Jewels travel to NYC to compete in the quiz bowl there...and so, of course, so the Rivals. They have to worry about preparing their knowledge skills and also worry that the Rivals are going to steal diamonds. They use their research skills to narrow it down to two possible places, and fight back and forth to try to outsmart the other students, Isabel especially. Of course, being in NYC is fun, and they get to watch the Atkinson prep advisor try to flirt with their own, but at the end of the book, the Jewels are concerned about the remaining sapphire and emerald and how to keep those out of the hands of the Rivals.
Strengths: I still liked that the girls were knowledgeable and strong, the strong sense of place, and the characters in general. Erin especially has the middle school "lack of filter" that gets so many of them in trouble.
Weaknesses: There was even more in this that I couldn't quite believe (they get past so much museum security, and things fall into place so easily), and the appearance of the notes with clues just confused me. Was it the Rivals trying to set them up? I want to see how this mystery shakes out, but I wish the circumstances were a little more believable.
Please note that there seems to be some confusion over the series title. I have seen both "Jewel Thieves" and "Jewel Society", although "Society" seems to dominate. Book three, Keep Friends Close, Emeralds Closer is due out 24 September 2013, and The Battle of the Brightest is due 26 November 2013!
Harness, Cheryl. Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero.
1 March 2013, Albert Whitman and Company
I'm becoming more and more convinced that picture book biographies might be the way to go to incorporate more nonfiction into the curriculum. For example, this excellent biography would go along with fiction books about women's rights, the civil war, and anything with medicine. I also think it's important for young people (girls especially) to be reminded that society was not always as it is today, and that women have not been allowed to wear pants on a regular basis for that long. (Forty years ago, teachers on many districts could only wear pants if they had a coordinating jacket that completely covered their derriere!) This was a fascinating look at the life of one very outspoken woman who did not let the mores of the times limit was she was able to do.