Browsing Tag

middle grade

Books We Love: A Rambler Steals Home

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Huge thanks to Carter Higgins for sharing a copy of A Rambler Steals Home with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a team of nine educators who read and share new children’s and middle grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

A Rambler Steals Home is a book about a lot of things: family, love, loss, friendship, and unanswered questions, to name a few. It’s a story with charm, character, and compassion. It’s a story with wit and wisdom, too.

Derby Christmas Clark spends her days traveling across the country in an RV with her father, Garland and her brother, Triple.. Each summer, she settles in Ridge Creek, Virginia: a small town most well known for its minor-league baseball stadium. Derby’s summer family includes a cast of characters: a small-town boy named Marcus whose friendship means loads to Derby, a grown woman named June who almost fills in as a mama for Derby, and others.

Derby’s voice in this book is so incredibly strong. Author Carter Higgins does an incredible job of capturing the spirit, hope, and worries of a pre-teen girl, while at the same time giving Derby an edge of being wise beyond her years.

While Derby herself is a huge draw for this book, so is the town of Ridge Creek. Fans of baseball will fall in love with a town where the joys and disappointments of the game are the joys and disappointments of the community. Derby lives her summer life by innings and strikes, which gives her journey a fantastic pace.

I would highly recommend this title for middle grade readers and middle grade classrooms. I just know that readers will connect deeply with Derby, and also learn lots from her journey.

Books We Love: What Makes A Monster

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This week marked a book birthday for Jess Keating’s What Makes a Monster?! After the success of her Pink is for Blobfish, my students became captivated by Keating’s writing. With fascinating facts and strong nonfiction text features, the World of Weird Animals series draws in many young readers. Keating’s website describes the series as “a must-read series for curious kids,” and I can’t think of a more accurate description.

What Makes a Monster pulls readers in to the respective worlds of the aye-aye, the vampire bat, the prairie dog, the tyrant leech king, and other scary animals. The book explores what makes the animals dangerous, as well as how many “monsters” contribute positively to our ecosystems.

Each two-page spread features a large photo of each animal, along with a vivid description and fast facts. Funny illustrations add humor to the pages and make this book a great fit for young readers.

One powerful section in the book talks about “misunderstood monsters:” the animals who are less likely to be included in conservation efforts because they aren’t cute or furry. This serves as a call-to-action for readers as they think about how ugly or scary animals can still add to our world. By the end of the book, readers will be questioning what it means to be a monster.

Huge thanks to Jess Keating for sharing a copy of What Makes a Monster? with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a team of nine educators who read and share new children’s and middle grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!


Books We Love: Genevieve’s War

Books We Love

If you’re a longtime reader of Miss Magee’s Reads, you know love historical fiction. From children’s books like Number the Stars and The Invention of Hugo Cabret to historical fiction novels like All the Light We Cannot See, I love being immersed in a different time and place. One of my favorite reads of the past year was Kimberly Brubaker Bradley’s The War That Saved My Life, which explored the experiences of the evacuated children of London during World War II.

Genevieve’s War, from acclaimed children’s author Patricia Reilly Giff, explores World War II from the perspective of an American girl visiting her grandmother in France. When Genevieve has the chance to leave France and return to the safety of her home in America, she’s faced with a difficult decision: should she return home, or stay to support her grandmother? If she stays, will she be part of the resistance? Genevieve’s War explores themes of bravery, kindness, and courage in the face of adversity.

I highly recommend this book to upper middle grade readers who can’t get enough historical fiction. It’s a good fit for readers who are eagerly anticipating the release of The War I Finally Won this fall!

Books We Love: Moon Shadow

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One of the things I love most about the middle grade genre is the tendency to ask big questions. Moon Shadow does just that. Almost-thirteen-year-old Lucia has had many changes in her life: her mom moved to Sweden, her strongest friendship has completely dissolved, and she just started middle school. When Lucia celebrates her thirteenth birthday on the night of a lunar eclipse, strange things start happening. People start telling Lucia she was out and about when she knows she was asleep. She wakes up with wet sneakers next to her bed, and with strange memory-like dreams floating through her head. Lucia has to put the pieces of the puzzle back together before something really strange happens.

This book finds its audience in middle grade readers who are still figuring themselves out. Lucia’s life isn’t perfect, and neither is she, but she finds ways to cope with her struggles and let her strengths shine through. Erin Downing’s storytelling will captivate readers. They will keep turning the pages in anticipation of each “Out of the Shadows” section, where the pages turn black, the print turns white, and Lucia’s “shadow” seems to take over. In addition to being suspenseful and action-packed, this book helps readers explore questions about what it means to be yourself. Moon Shadow is a great fit for middle school classrooms.

Moon Shadow was released on May 16th, 2017 by Simon & Schuster.

Huge thanks to Erin Downing and Simon & Schuster for sharing a copy of Moon Shadow with our #bookexcursion group! #bookexcursion is a group of ten educators who read and share new children’s and middle grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

Books We Love: The Countdown Conspiracy

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This summer, I joined an amazing group of educators in a project called #bookexcursion. Made up of avid readers, our group reads and shares new titles for elementary classrooms (inspired by #bookjourney). I was so excited when author Katie Slivensky sent a copy of The Countdown Conspiracy our way!

At its core, The Countdown Conspiracy is about a group of six preteens who are selected for the first ever mission to Mars. They’ve gone through a rigorous selection process, but they still have nine years of training ahead of them before they can actually takeoff for their historic journey. However, the aftermath of a world war looms over their mission prospects. With the six kids representing six different countries, tensions are high. The kids face many obstacles in their pursuit of achieving their dreams. Thirteen-year-old Miranda Regeant, the US expedition representative and the book’s narrator, begins to believe the kids may be in danger.

As someone who absolutely loves learning about the history of the space race, I immediately drawn in by this story. Its fast pace, well-developed characters and constant action make it a thrilling read. From the opening lines, this book is an absolute page-turner. The growth of the characters is also exceptional. This book truly instills a growth mindset in readers. The main characters are completing tasks that have never been asked of anyone in history. They have to recognize their own ability to grow and learn, and they have to keep trying when it gets difficult.

I can’t wait for this book to make its way into the hands of middle grade readers. Young readers need to see kids like them who code, engineer, problem solve, and innovate. Many young minds will be inspired by this book. Congratulations to Katie Slivensky on a fantastic middle grade debut!

The Countdown Conspiracy will be released by HarperCollins Children’s in August 2017.

Thank you to author Katie Slivensky (@paleopaws) for generously providing an ARC of The Countdown Conspiracy to #bookexcursion! #bookexcursion is a group of ten educators who read and share new children’s and middle grade titles. For more of my #bookexcursion reviews, click here!

Author Interview: Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

Author Interviews, Books We Love

This past January, one of my students came into school clutching Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. Telling bedtime stories of inspirational women throughout history, this book re-invents the definition of a fairy tale. The stories and illustrations leapt off the page, bringing history alive for young readers.

I was amazed to learn the backstory behind the book itself. In 2016, the book topped one million dollars in a crowdfunding campaign and went on to sell more than 500,000 copies. Now, the authors are back with Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2, due out later this year, as well as a Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls podcast! The Kickstarter campaign for the new projects has already raised over $417,000.

There are so many things that make this book a must-read for students. So many of the stories readers encounter in this book aren’t being taught in history class. In Rebel Girls, students can learn about Ada Lovelace, the Brontë sisters, Malala Yousafzai, Maya Angelou, and more. Any child can find a role model within the pages of this book.

To celebrate the success of Rebel Girls and the release of Rebel Girls 2, I interviewed authorsElena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo. I knew they would have lots to say about the impact these stories can have on the world!


With so many incredible stories out there, how do you decide which ones to include in your books?

The first women we researched were Hatshepsut, the first female pharaoh who lived long before Cleopatra and nobody has ever heard of, and Maria Sibylla Merian, the German scientist who discovered the metamorphosis of butterflies. These are the first two stories that we tested with our Timbuktu newsletter, in the months leading up to our crowdfunding campaign. We are particularly fond of them not only because they are wonderful, unknown stories, but also because they helped us understand we were onto something really big. Our readers responded enthusiastically to those stories, asking for more.

We wanted to feature women from as many countries as possible, because children’s media productions don’t just lack diversity in terms of gender, but also in terms of race, sexual orientation, religious background… We also wanted to feature women in as many careers as possible: we wanted to have trombonists, marine biologists, judges, Presidents, spies, chefs, surfers, poets, rock singers. Finally, we selected women whose personal stories had something that could be particularly interesting for a child, for example the fact that the famous chef, Julia Child, started her career as a spy, cooking shark-repellent cakes during WW2.

In an interview with The Bookseller, Francesca said that “children are citizens of the present.” Instead of waiting until they are adults, how can kids begin to change the world today?

There are so many ways that kids can change the world now without waiting until they get older.  We get messages from kids and their families about different things they are doing to change the world already. Some are helping to start Rebel Girls clubs to promote these strong women and help others learn about them. Others are using the book as inspiration to write their own Rebel Girls stories-about their lives or about the lives of others and share it with their families and friends. Outside of the book, we hear about readers volunteering their time, raising money for great causes, or working to be inclusive to classmates at school. We’re also proud and excited to hear about the positive things kids are doing.

What makes 2017 the perfect time for Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls 2?

The position of women has significantly improved over time in our society, but there is definitely still lots to do. Especially because no accomplishment, no matter how big, can ever be given for granted.

In 2017, Children’s books are still packed with gender stereotypes. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls features 100 stories about the lives of 100 extraordinary women from the past and the present, from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams. These are stories about real women, which is different than a lot of goodnight stories about fictional characters. We wanted to feature painters, scientists, dancers, chefs, astronauts, jazz singers, pharaohs, boxers, writers, and political leaders-rebel girls whose actions have changed the course of history.

How do you think adding Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls to family bookshelves can change the experiences of young girls?

Stories are what humans are made of. As kids, we understand ourselves and the world around us through stories. The stories we have told girls so far offered them a very narrow representation of who they can be. The illustrations accompanying those stories have offered them an even narrower representation of the way they should look like. This reflects in a lot of self-doubt and the feeling of being constantly wrong, which plagues girls in school first, and later in the workplace. Studies show that girls start having less self-confidence than boys in first grade, despite having better grades on average! We feel the time has come to start changing the narrative around femininity, this is what Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is about.

For more on Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, you can check out the Rebel Girls website.

Review: The Great Shelby Holmes

Books We Love

The Great Shelby Holmes
by Elizabeth Eulberg

My Rating:

Note: The Great Shelby Homes will be released on September 6th by Bloomsbury Children’s. A link to pre-order is included at the bottom of this review.


When I was a kid, I absolutely loved mystery books. I loved finding the clues along with the detectives and making my own predictions about how the book would end. As a teacher, I see that so many of my students love mysteries, but tend to lean towards other genres after they grow out of Cam Jansen and A-Z Mysteries. I was so excited to find The Great Shelby Holmes, because it fills a gap for middle grade mystery readers. With fantastic character development and lots of humor, I know Shelby Holmes will be a perfect next read for the mystery lovers in my class.

The Great Shelby Holmes tells the story of a spunky, awkward, and brilliant kid detective. The story is narrated by Shelby’s new neighbor, Watson, a former army brat who finds himself reluctantly tagging along on Shelby’s adventures.  Shelby and Watson work to solve the mystery of a missing pet, and they meet many neighborhood characters along the way.

There are many things I loved about this book, one of them being that it explicitly addresses race through the text and illustrations. Given the diverse cast of characters, many of my students will be able to find someone who looks like them in the book, which is such an important thing to many readers.

With witty dialogue, a fast-paced plot, and strong narration, The Great Shelby Holmes establishes a well-deserved place for itself on middle grade mystery shelves. Fans of the book will be thrilled to know that this isn’t Shelby’s last adventure; according to the author’s website, The Great Shelby Holmes is the first in a three-part series. I can’t wait to read more!

Book Information
Title: The Great Shelby Holmes
Author: Elizabeth Eulburg
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release Date: September 2016
Price: US $16.99
Source: Twitter Contest

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Review: Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?

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Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?
by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen


My Rating:

Note: Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? will be released on Tuesday, August 2, 2016 by Capstone Young Readers. A link to pre-order is included at the bottom of this review.


It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the students in my class absolutely love Kate DiCamillo. As a kid, I loved Because of Winn-Dixie because the story completely captivated me. As a teacher, I love that Kate DiCamillo is an author kids can stick with as they become more experienced readers. Since she has so many books at different levels, kids can start reading her books in first grade and discover some of her more challenging texts in middle school and beyond. While I’ve read many of DiCamillo’s novels, I was so excited to read Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? so that I could take a look at her books for younger audiences.

Fans of DiCamillo will love how the Tales from Deckawoo Drive books dig deep into the backstories of some minor characters from the Mercy Watson series. In this case, DiCamillo explores the adventures of Baby Lincoln and her protective older sister, Eugenia. DiCamillo’s use of humor and her distinct voice as a narrator make this book a fun read. The book is very readable, and will be a great bridge from simple chapter books to more complex novels. While the book is listed for ages 6-9, some of the big words in the book will require context clues for readers at that age bracket.

In addition to being an endearing and well-written book for children, this book will speak to adults who share it with the children in their lives. At is roots, this book is a coming-of-age story, even though the main character isn’t at the start of her adulthood. With strong messages about being yourself and finding your own path in life, this sweet read will be great for family read-alouds and shared reading experiences. It will also find its place on the shelves of many classrooms, next to other Kate DiCamillo masterpieces.

Classroom Connections

DiCamillo’s writing is filled with rich language and fantastic internal punctuation. Many passages in the book lend themselves to visualization. This would be a great book to use when practicing visualization in small groups or as a class.

Book Information
Title: Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Chris Van Dusen
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: August 2016
Price: US $14.99
Source: NetGalley – Advanced Review Copy

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Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!

Review: The City of Ember

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The City of Ember
by Jeanne DuPrau

My Rating:


I first read The City of Ember when it came out in 2003, and it is a story that has stuck with me over the years. Most recently, I read the book as a read aloud to my third grade students. I can say that this book is absolutely kid-approved!

With an engaging storyline and well-developed characters, The City of Ember is a great example of dystopian middle grade literature. Students are enraptured by the story, which follows two children named Lina and Doon who live in an underground city with failing infrastructure. The problem is, nobody knows that the city is underground. Mysterious instructions from the city’s builders were supposed to be passed down by the mayors until the right time, but (as my Teaser Tuesday showed a few weeks ago) a corrupt mayor ruined the plan. Now, hundreds of people are living in an underground city with no knowledge of the outside world.

I absolutely love the dramatic irony that is present in this text. My students knew that Ember was underground, but the main characters do not. My students were literally shouting out, wishing they could tell Lina and Doon what they were missing! This is a fascinating effect to use in children’s writing, and DuPrau includes it masterfully.

Another highlight of this book is the flaws in the main characters. Both Lina and Doon have flaws that interfere with their journey. Imperfect protagonists are instrumental in teaching children that all people have their flaws, but we can all work to overcome our weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Lina and Doon are relatable characters. Children can feel a strong connection to the two, and to their progress during their journey.

The City of Ember is an engaging text for read aloud to 3rd grade or up, or independent reading for 4th to 6th grade. Even for adults, the riveting storytelling makes Ember a great read.

Favorite Passages

On anger:
“The trouble with anger is, it gets hold of you. And then you aren’t the master of yourself anymore. Anger is.”

On resiliency:
“People find a way through just about anything.”

Classroom Connections

DuPrau’s use of English language conventions along with creative writing make The City of Ember a great fit for language study. Here are a few suggestions for use in the classroom!

  • DuPrau uses adverbs regularly throughout the text. During our read aloud, students would raise their hand whenever they heard a new adverb, and we would add it to a list. Adverbs can occasionally be tricky to find in children’s literature, but DuPrau includes them successfully and models them for children.
  • Similes made by Doon and Lina drive much of their conversations on values and feelings. Students can come up with their own similes to describe different parts of Ember, the comparisons between dark and light, and more.

Book Information
Title: The City of Ember
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: 2003
Price: US $7.99
Source: Classroom Library

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Random House

Review: Alistair Grim’s Odditorium and Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum

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Alistair Grim’s Odditorium and Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum
by Gregory Funaro

My Rating:

Note: Alistair Grimm’s Odd Aquaticum will be released in the U.S. on January 5th, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion. A link to preorder is included at the bottom of this review.

As a teacher, I’m often searching for books that are complex, well-written, and engaging all at the same time. With Gregory Funaro’s Odditorium series, readers have hit the jackpot. Both books create a steampunk-inspired magical universe in which anything can, and does, happen. Readers will be instantly hooked by the well-developed characters, the fast-paced plot, and the intelligent cliffhangers.

Allistair Grimm’s Odditorium tells the story of a chimney sweep apprentice named Grubb who gets swept up (haha) in an unexpected adventure. As he learns more about Allistair Grimm, the man who takes him in and brings him along on his magical journeys, he begins to see how he may fit in as a part of the team. As Allistair Grimm, Grubb and friends seek to rid London of the evil Prince Nightshade, readers are quickly entranced by the adventure.

Allistair Grimm’s Odd Aquaticum follows the same crew as the mystery deepens and the action picks up. With magic and mystical folklore galore, this sequel will be a great fit for middle grade readers and adults that love connections to the classics. In this book, the story is laid out even more strongly and the characters are well developed.

It’s very hard to write summaries for the Odditorium books, because there are so many exciting moments that I don’t want to give away! Suffice to say, these books are action-packed with engaging plot twists and major page-turner moments. The series fits in perfectly with a middle grade fandom that loves the Percy Jackson and Harry Potter book universes.

Another huge strength of the series is the brilliant illustrations by Vivienne To. With just enough illustrations to create wonderful visualizations in the reader’s mind, To manages to establish a universe that blends so seamlessly with Funaro’s amazing writing.

Pick up a copy of this book at your local bookstore, on Amazon, or on Kindle. If you like middle grade fantasy, steampunk, or just a good old-fashioned story, you’ll love this one.

Classroom Connections

The Odditorium series could be a great fit for an independent reading project or a small group read. With such a deep and complex plot, there are many opportunities for meaningful learning.

  • There are a lot of points in which the character’s backstories can be pieced together through multiple, seemingly random details. Students can practice inference making and supporting their inferences with evidence from the text.
  • Funaro is a master at cliffhanger endings! My third grade students love cliffhanger endings, and Funaro does a great job hinting at one in the conclusion of nearly every chapter. Students can make a list of the cliffhanger endings they spot, then look to see what language and specific words Funaro used to imply cliffhangers.

Book Information

Title: Alistair Grim’s Odditorium & Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum
Author: Gregory Funaro
Illustrator:  Vivienne To
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: January 6th, 2016
Price: US $16.99
Source: NetGalley – Advanced Review Copy

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Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Review Copy of this book from Disney-Hyperion in exchange for an honest review. All opinions in this review are my own. Thanks for reading!