So here's the question of the day for librarians and teachers who deal with middle grade readers: which book is more likely to be picked up by your readers: an upbeat adventure book involving a dinosaur, or a book where the grandfather is dying and his grandson is trying to save him by locating a creepy circus?
I keep trying to tell myself that publishing is all about making money, but I just don't understand it when publishers have a bidding war for the latter, when the author of the former has to contact me himself to ask if I will review the book. I'll definitely be looking into more books by David Fulk, and will leave it to others to follow the illustrious career of Ms. Beasley.
Fulk, David. Raising Rufus.
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
9 June 2015
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Martin is a quirky kid growing up in Wisconsin. He's a bit geeky, and class bully Donald (whose father happens to be the sheriff) gives him a hard time, but he's pretty happy working in his lab in his backyard, especially when he find a "frozen rock" while exploring. The rock turns out to be an egg, and hatches a tiny lizard, Rufus. Martin isn't supposed to keep pets, so he tells his mother he'll get rid of it, but of course he doesn't! With the help of Audrey, a classmate who is also one of Donald's targets, Martin is able to hide Rufus provide him with enough food. When they are finally discovered, the owner of the Trout Palace, a local tourist attraction where Martin's father works, wants to buy Rufus so that he will attract the crowds. Martin and Audrey agree that this isn't the best place for Rufus to flourish, and their science teacher, Mr. Eckhart, is able to put them in touch with authorities who can relocate the T.Rex to the Yucatan penisula.
Martin starts off as a rather quiet, apologetic boy, but is fiercely loyal to both Rufus and Audrey, and learns to stand up for himself. Martin's mother is fantastic-- while she doesn't check too closely on Martin's workshop, she does hover in a manner which will be familiar to many students, and is quite free with her embarrassing endearments. While Rufus is a ruthless carnivore, Martin and the other students in his school feel they can trust him, which is an interesting turn.
This book moves along at a break-neck pace, and has great descriptions of forested areas in Wisconsin. I want to make a road trip to the Trout Palace right now, even though Rufus isn't on display! There's lots of action and adventure, as well as interesting information about dinosaurs. Many middle grade readers have spent many hours reading nonfiction books about different dinosaurs, and yet there are so few middle grade books which feature them. With its chase scenes, semi-evil theme park owner, rambunctious dinosaur and touch of romance, this is the perfect fiction book to hand to a middle grade reader who is up the fact that the Brontosaurus is now back to being its own genus and not just a sub group of the Apatosaurus family.
While this has been compared to Butterworth's The Enormous Egg (1956), which is probably very difficult to find on library shelves these days, I think that this is a much better choice for getting the inside scoop on how to raise a dinosaur in your own home! If I get an opportunity to scrabble through some rocky areas in Wisconsin, I know to stock up on ground beef and dog food in case some of the rocks I find start making peculiar sounds!
Beasley, Cassie. Circus Mirandus
June 2nd 2015 by Dial Books
ARC from Baker and Taylor
Micah is happy living with his grandfather Ephraim, who tells him wonderful stories of the magic Circus Mirandus, but when his grandfather falls ill, he has to put up with his great aunt Gertrudis, who is bitter and no fun. Calling on the help of his friend Jenny, who is working on a history project with him, he tries to figure out if the Circus Mirandus is real. It turns out it is, and his grandfather taught The Man Who Bends Light (aka the Lightbender) a magic trick with knots, and in return was given one miracle, which Ephraim has yet to use. Micah thinks that the miracle will be that his grandfather will become well again, but that's not the way that magic works. Micah and Jenny gets to see many tremendous things, learn about Micah's family, and, in the end, get the help that Micah needs.
Strengths: Circuses are creepy, and this was certainly a very carefully constructed magical world, with a lot of back story. Jenny was a supportive friend, Gertrudis was an able villain, and I was easily sucked into the idea of the magic.
Weaknesses: This was very, very sad. A lot of this concerns the grandfather dying, and the end is not really that happy a one. My students want funny books, not depressing ones.
What I really thought: While this was okay, I just don't have the readers for it. What's the point of having magic if the world is still such a sad place?
This is getting tons of love. I just don't get it.
Liberty Bay Books
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