Archives for posts with tag: Juvenile Fiction


Reviewed by Tammie Benham

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), rules Daniel’s life.  When the “zaps” hit, he gets stuck in a self-destructive pattern that can last for hours.  The zaps are particularly relentless at bedtime when he believes if he doesn’t complete his “routine,” he will die.

In this coming-of-age story, Daniel’s best friend since grade school, Max is the star quarterback for the Erie Hills Elephants.  Daniel spends most of his time as the Substitute Kicker trying not to be noticed and arranging cups of water for his team mates.

Despite his many idiosyncrasies, Daniel is a typical middle-school aged boy.  There is a girl he likes who may like him back.  Max encourages Daniel’s blossoming friendship with Raya while holding off the less-than-nonchalant advances of Clara.

Just when things between Daniel and Raya are beginning to turn into the possibility of something more, Psycho Sara, who talks to no-one at school and doesn’t even speak to her own mother, starts to talk to Daniel.  Daniel might have ignored Sara if not for her cryptic naming of him as a fellow, “Star-Child.”

Afraid that he may be just as crazy as Sara has been labeled, intrigued that Sara isn’t nearly as crazy as everyone believes her to be,  and feeling a strong sense of belonging with Sara that he doesn’t feel as strongly with Raya, Daniel is caught between what’s familiar and what might be an exciting adventure.

As the state football finals approach, Daniel is caught in another dilemma.  The starting Kicker is suddenly ill and he is placed into the spotlight.  Through a series of events, the pressure and expectations on Daniel continues to increase, along with his anxiety.  Finding it more and more difficult to hide his “zaps,” he wonders how long he can keep his craziness hidden.  The only person who seems to see the hidden Daniel is Psycho Sara.

OCDaniel is an interesting look into the world of someone suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  Anyone who is not familiar with how debilitating OCD can become will have their eyes opened by this inside look.  Children wondering about their inability to control certain patterns in their behavior may see themselves.  Ultimately, this is a book for those who are feeling different and looking for a place to belong.



One of the things I love about libraries is their propensity for serendipity.  There’s just something marvelous about browsing the shelves and running across an unexpected delight or clicking links in the electronic catalog and falling down a rabbit hole of an interesting tidbits only to climb out and tumble into another one.  That’s exactly what happened when I ran across this week’s titles.

By the time this review appears in the paper, autumn will have truly arrived and the 2016 World Series will have receded behind other headlines.  Even so, the Cubs’ victory remains memorable, and the entire series offered some outstanding baseball.  I was riding the wave of excitement after Game 7 when I started combing the library’s catalog for books about baseball, curses, Cleveland, and Chicago.  Forty-five minutes later I climbed out of the rabbit hole with two widely different reads tied together by happenstance.

First item up to bat is The World Series Curse by David A. Kelly which popped up while looking at books about baseball curses and the Cubs.  Written for children, The World Series Curse is the first in a spinoff series of baseball mysteries featuring major league teams and their stadiums.  Cousins Kate and Mike are baseball fans and accidental, amateur detectives—the perfect mix for sniffing out and solving predicaments at the ballpark.  Here they find themselves in the midst of a potential scandal affecting the outcome of a hotly contested World Series between the Cubs and the Red Sox.  Cubs players have been accused of cheating on the road and at home, including corking a bat.  Kate and Mike happen to know the right people and be in the right place at the right time to solve the mystery and prove the Cubs’ fair play.  Throw in lively illustrations, a bitter sportswriter, and a red herring disguised as a goat, and you have an interesting, light read for elementary-age readers.  Give this one to reluctant readers who enjoy sports stories or to mystery fans seeking a less-than-intense book.

Second in the lineup is a book by one of my favorite authors, Studs Terkel.  A true son of Chicago, Terkel spent the bulk of his life and his career immersed in the city.  Although known for his radio interviews and oral histories, Terkel’s own voice is front-and-center in this title.  Studs Terkel’s Chicago (a no-nonsense name reflecting a no-nonsense author) is a love letter to his hometown.  It’s a loose, almost sloppy love letter though—more stream-of-consciousness conversation or storytelling than formal declaration.  That’s part of its charm.  Terkel travels his own path through the streets of Chicago, linking historical events and figures, personalities from the varied neighborhoods, and vignettes from his youth.  He strings together these gems as he meanders through the physical landscape and his mental path.  Terkel’s voice is all but literally present—if you’ve ever heard an interview with him, you can hear his gravelly voice as you read the book.  In fact, it would be just as good or better as an audiobook; the downside would be the loss of the fantastic black and white photographs depicting life on the streets of Chicago.  Studs Terkel’s Chicago is a fantastic journey through one man’s experience with one of the great cities of the world.  It’s charming and gritty and delightful, but it’s not the easiest read out there.  If you are unfamiliar with Studs Terkel or passingly familiar with his well-known works, this is not the place to get acquainted.  Try one of his books of oral histories first—the library has several.

Both of the books I’ve mentioned happen to be available in electronic book format from the library’s Overdrive service.  You can access hundreds of e-books and electronic audio books at no extra charge with a Joplin Public Library card.  Overdrive is available on home computers or as an app for cell phones, tablets, and other electronic devices.  These electronic titles can be checked out and put on hold just like physical versions although borrowing times may differ.  The titles disappear when they are due, so there aren’t any overdue fines.  The Overdrive app also includes features which help ease eye fatigue while reading on a screen.  If you would like to know more about Overdrive and how to access it, stop by or call the library at (417) 623-7953.  Our staff at the Reference, Children’s, and Teen Departments are happy to answer questions about Overdrive or to help you use this handy resource.  Give it a try!

Alcatraz Island may seem a peculiar setting for Juvenile Fiction but in the hands of author Gennifer Choldenko, the infamous island becomes a fascinating backdrop in which to come of age.

As Mr. Flanagan begins his job as Associate Warden, his son Moose is struggling with his role in keeping his father safe. Complicating matters is Natalie, Moose’s 16 year old sister, who, “views the world through her own personal kaleidoscope.”  Although Moose and Natalie’s Mom insists Natalie try to blend in, Moose is more accepting and willing to allow Natalie to explore her own limitations.

When a fire breaks out in the Flanagan apartment, Natalie is blamed. However, Moose isn’t so sure Natalie set the blaze. As Moose and his friends investigate what might have happened and decide to ask the Cons imprisoned on Alcatraz, the reader is treated to how notes may have been passed in Alcatraz via cockroach messenger and the backstory of how some prisoners received their nicknames.

Things heat up when a butcher knife goes missing from the kitchen, worrying Moose more. He suspects his Dad is the next target in a Points game targeting prison employees. Al Capone may be the only one who can provide inside information to stop an attack, but will he talk and how will he choose to communicate?

Throughout the book, the personal growth of Moose becomes a secondary story line as he learns who can be trusted, that not everyone who acts nice is trustworthy, and that he is not responsible for the actions of everyone in his world.  “One time is gone, and the other has not yet begun,” for Moose.

The author’s notes on her experience at Alcatraz Island and research for the book may be as compelling as the book itself. The notes provide a glimpse into the thought processes and work that accompany good writing and also provide interesting factoids about “America’s Roughest Prison,” a place that has long captured the imagination of the public.

This Mark Twain Award Nominee book will be voted on during the Missouri Association of School Libraries conference late April, 2016.  Good luck Al Capone!

For children in grades 4 through 8
Thirteen-year-old Arthur Owens misses his dad, who was recently killed in a motorcycle accident, and while his mother may have been ready to pack up and clean out his things, Arthur was not. So when he sees the man everyone refers to as the “Junk Man” going through their garbage and wearing his dad’s favorite hat, he picks up a brick and throws it at him.

Thankfully, the “Junk Man” is not seriously injured, but Arthur is sent to juvenile detention and when he is finally released he is so happy to be home it is hard for him to think about facing Judge Warner—the judge who will decide his punishment.

On court day, Arthur learns the “Junk Man” is named James Hampton—a man he barely recognizes in dress clothes. And while Judge Warner is a hardcore, unsympathetic figure looking for an appropriate punishment for Arthur, Mr. Hampton surprises everyone when he steps in and convinces the judge of a more redemptive opportunity for Arthur—120 community service hours to be served working for Mr. Hampton.

On his first day of community service Arthur is barely able to locate Mr. Hampton’s workshop and upon arrival finds Mr. Hampton’s rickety cart and a note instructing him to gather the Seven Most Important Things—light bulbs, foil, mirrors, pieces of wood, glass bottles, coffee cans, and cardboard.

Arthur is shocked and appalled to be going through peoples’ garbage, but after just a few weekends of community service he learns Mr. Hampton is working on something much bigger than collecting garbage.

Other reviewers describe Shelley Pearsall’s work as luminescent, remarkable, excellent, and moving; and while one is hard pressed to find a better descriptor, stunning fits nicely into the group. Pearsall’s masterpiece explores friendship, family, love, and the important lesson of “not judging a book by its cover.” Her ability to parcel the story out will hook readers and combined with her interesting and well-fleshed out characters there is not a chance of putting this book down until the endnotes about the real James Hampton have been read and studied.

icebreakerFor children in grades 4 through 8

On the Oyster, an ancient and giant icebreaker ship, everyone belongs to one of three groups—there is Grease Alley for the engineers; Braid for the officers; and Dufftown for the cooks. There is little intermixing between the groups, except to trade goods and services and to make sure the ship is safe.

As an orphan whose parents were thrown overboard when she was a baby, twelve-year-old Petrel belongs to neither group. She spends most of her time hiding from bullies and trying to scavenge enough food to survive. To most of the ship’s inhabitants she is invisible, and to those who notice her, she is simply known as the Nothing Girl. Her only companions are two talking rats, Mister Smoke and Missus Slink.

The ship’s tribes occasionally fight, but they are united in keeping the ship moving along the same course it has been following for 300 years and in protecting it against the Anti-Machinists—a powerful group who believes anything mechanical is evil and should be destroyed. And while all the documentation of the ship’s original purpose has long since vanished, many of the Oyster’s residents believe a “sleeping captain” will return to lead once the reign of the Anti-Machinists ends.

One to avoid trouble and stay hidden, Petrel suddenly finds herself thrust into the limelight after her actions cause an unconscious boy to be rescued from an iceberg and brought aboard the ship. Untrusting and fearful of strangers, the ship’s crew have little patience for the mysterious boy who claims to know neither his name, nor how he came to be alone on the ice.

Fearful that they will soon return him to the ice, Petrel rescues the boy and hides him. Little does she know the boy has his own secret agenda and he may end up destroying her and all she holds dear.

Book one is a powerful start to Tanner’s latest trilogy. Petrel and the supporting cast are well drawn and readers are sure to be hooked from the beginning thanks to the author thoughtfully parceling out the clues. Placing the Icebreaker and her tenants in a world where the powerful subscribe to anti-technological way of thinking is an intriguing scenario and makes for a dramatic build up and a satisfying conclusion. Readers are sure to anticipate the next episode in this enthralling adventure series.

MagicMidnight Gulch used to be a town with magic—a town where people could bake secrets into pies, sing up rainstorms, and catch shadows. Currently the town’s welcome sign reads, “Midnight Gulch, Tennessee—a proper place to call home” but as Felicity Pickle, her wanderlust mother, and her younger sister drive their dilapidated van, affectionately know as the Pickled Jalapeño, into town, she can see through the layers of paint that the sign used to boast, “Midnight Gulch, Tennessee—a magical place to call home.”

The idea of magic is an exciting one to Felicity. She hopes that with the help of Midnight Gulch’s magic and a little luck she will finally be able to make her dream of finding a place to call home come true.

Twelve-year-old Felicity possesses a “snicker of magic” of her own. She has a unique gift that allows her to see words that people are thinking or feeling. She glimpses words everywhere—looped above people’s heads, perched on bookshelves, streaming down walls, and shining in windows—and the words, at least the interesting ones, have personalities of their own. Some dance, some sparkle, some fly, and many showcase themselves in color—polka dots, zebra stripes, and neon hues.

It is through her magical word collecting that she meets and befriends Jonah, an amazing boy who uses his alter ego—the Beedle—to secretly help people in the community. According to his grandmother, he has a knack for “fixing what’s ailing” folks and he is making good on his promise not to waste his “know-how.”

It is with the help of Jonah’s “know-how” and his unfailing friendship that Felicity discovers the town’s magical past and learns the complete story of the feuding Brothers Threadbare, their ill-fated romances, and a mysterious curse. A curse that Felicity believes is the key to changing her mother’s wandering ways.

Debut author Natalie Lloyd’s foray into the world of children’s literature is charming. Lloyd’s ability to weave together tidbits from several seemingly separate stories to form a cohesive thread is inspired and clever. Combined that with her use of language and description and her book comes alive, much like Felicity’s collected words. Captivating characters steal the show and one would be hard-pressed not to discover someone to adore in this enchanting story about friendship, perseverance, and ultimately, love.

countingSeveral years ago I had the honor of hearing Nancy Pearl speak at a library conference.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, she is a celebrity in the world of libraries.  She is an author, a book critic, a former library director, and a readers’ advisory genius, and the Librarian Action Figure was modeled in her likeness.

Her conference talk centered on recommending books and, more specifically, the “doorways” through which readers enter books.  She believes that when a reader opens a book and starts reading it, he or she “enters the world of that book,” hence the term “doorway.”  According to her, there are four major “doorways” to enter through, and they include: story, character, setting and language.

Her talk really struck a cord with me because I recommend books to library users every day, and I am always looking for that next great book to read myself.  From her talk, I discovered that my “doorway” is through the characters.  If you ask me about a favorite book, I will always mention the characters.  And while reading a great book I get so caught up that I feel like the characters are real—that they are my friends, enemies, family, etc.  And this is exactly what I experienced while reading “Counting by 7s.”

Willow Chance, the lead character of “Counting by 7s,” is not your typical 12 year old.  Ever since she was dubbed highly gifted in kindergarten, her teachers have struggled to engage, much less challenge, her.  In her free time she reads medical textbooks, studies skin conditions and cultivates a beautiful garden in the middle of her California desert backyard.  Her adoptive parents, James and Roberta, are supportive and loving, and it is thanks to them that Willow has had such a happy childhood.  In an effort to allow her to make a new start, they enroll Willow in a brand-new school at the start of her sixth-grade year.  Willow hopes to fit in and, more importantly, connect with someone her own age.

However, thanks to finishing a state standardized test in record time, plus getting all the answers correct, Willow is labeled a cheater by her teacher and later the principal.  Willow does not tell her parents about any of her school trouble even after she is sent to see school counselor Dell Duke once a week.  Willow is attending one of these weekly sessions, along with two other teenagers, Mai and Quang-ha Nguyen, when tragedy strikes and she is left without parents for a second time in her short life.

Willow’s world is completely shattered, but thanks to her new school acquaintances she is not left completely alone.  Mai, Quang-ha and Dell become unlikely allies for Willow and soon she is surprising even herself with the changes and choices she is making.

If readers enter books through the character “doorway,” then author Holly Goldberg Sloan does not disappoint.  She has crafted a beautifully moving chapter book that readers are sure to devour.  Willow herself is enough to keep the pages turning, but Sloan’s book has a well-rounded and diverse mix of characters, plus a heartfelt and engaging story.