Princess Academy

Princess Academy is a well-written novel that can possibly fill in for young readers who want to read something like The Selection series by Kiera Cass, which is geared to young adults.

Chapter book, fiction
by Shannon Hale
Interest level: grades 4 through 7
4 out of 5 stars

It is quite common for students, seems to happen a lot in grade 4, to show interest in popular books that are written for young adults. School librarians work to provide appropriate reading material for young readers, and the reality is that some popular books contain material or situations that are too mature to be included in an elementary school library collection. I encourage these young readers to discuss the book they are interested in reading with their parents, and then I try to identify a book in the library collection that might be a similar read.

When several students showed interested in The Selection series by Kiera Cass, I set about to find an alternative for younger ages. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale is the book I recently read that I would recommend.

When it is announced that the Prince will select a bride from her small village, Miri is forced to leave behind her simple life in the quarry and enter the Princess Academy. There she faces a harsh and cruel academy mistress and must navigate the competition among the other girls. Will she learn enough to become the one chosen to be Princess, and is that even what she wants?

The story features intrigue, a little mysticism, and a budding romance as we watch Miri grow from a girl to a young woman. The power of reading and education also changes the life of the girls and the village. Hale has written strong characters and a mystical, yet believable setting.

Marlon Bundo’s: A Day in the Life of the Vice President

Truly well-done picture books are incredibly difficult to write. I am always skeptical when politicians or celebrities publish a children’s book, because it is usually not high quality. My guess is that they see an audience of children and feel it will be easy to write for them.

In this case, throw in a bunny and the thought was that a truly boring story would be interesting. Unfortunately, it is not. The plot follows the family rabbit as it accompanies the vice president through the day’s duties. We learn that the vice president meets with the president, presides over a vote (this wording will be meaningless to young readers), meets with people, and then heads home. There is very little substance and no specifics to provide interest.

The text is written in a rhyming fashion. In places it is awkward and falls out of rhythm, which makes it difficult to do as a read-aloud. The watercolor illustrations and the main character are charming.

The back of the book features a section titled “Resources.” There are no further resources for additional information, instead this section is really an author’s note that provides a few more details about places mentioned in the story.

The Voyagers series

The Voyagers series is full of action and likable characters. Not overly challenging, this would be a good series to recommend to students who want a a quick and enjoyable read.

Chapter book, science fiction
Interest level: grades 4 through 6
4 out of 5 stars

The Voyagers series consists of six books, each written by a different author. There are story threads that carry on throughout all of the books, and each book features adventures on a different planet. The story could be categorized as dystopian fiction for upper elementary readers. The eight main characters of the story, all under the age of 15, must travel to distant planets to obtain six elements needed to create an energy source that will save the inhabitants of earth, which is running out of fossil fuels.

I started reading this series because book one, Project Alpha was a 2017-2018 Young Hoosier Book Award nominee. D.J. McHale wrote the first book, and while he is popular with many readers, I felt the characters were rather two-dimensional and didn’t feel fully developed. I am happy to report that in subsequent books the characters were developed more and I was able to engage with them and wanted to follow their adventures to the end.

It was interesting to read a series that was written by a variety of authors. There were some authors whose writing I personally enjoyed more than others, and I feel that they all worked well together to tell further the plot.

I recommend this book for upper elementary readers who enjoy science fiction, or who are looking for adventure and excitement in a quicker read.

Not If I Save You First

Fans of survival and adventure stories will love Not If I Save You First. Throw in humor and a little first-love-romance and this book hits a home run for me!

Chapter book, fiction
Interest level: middle grade and up
5 out of 5 stars

I am a huge fan of Ally Carter’s books! She always has strong female main characters, male characters that respect strong women, original plots, humor, adventure, and romance. Her latest work, Not If I Save You First includes all of these features and, as an additional bonus, it is set in the Alaskan wilderness. This is a stand-alone novel.

Madeleine Rose Manchester, aka Mad Dog, is the spunky and very capable main character. The book opens six years earlier, when Maddie was a talkative 10-year-old and her father was the head of the Secret Service. Maddie’s best friend is Logan, the son of the president of the United States, and they are inseparable. When Maddie’s father is seriously injured in the line of duty, he resigns his position and moves Maddie to the wilderness of Alaska where there is no internet or phones and a small one-room cabin becomes their home.

Six years later, Maddie is a young woman who knows how to throw a hatchet, start a fire, and survive in Alaska on her own. She is also completely aware of the importance of lip balm, painted nails, and hair ties. Maddie is a wonderful mix of abilities and doesn’t fit into any stereotypical image of girls. She is a woman of the 21st century who is fully capable of doing whatever she wants.

Logan is sent to Alaska because he has been sneaking away from his security detail and acting up in DC. His parents believe roughing it in Alaska will help him learn to shoulder responsibility. For the past six years, Maddie has been writing letters to Logan that he never answered. She is both hurt and angry and is less than thrilled by his arrival.

After Maddie’s father is called away to deliver supplies before a big storm hits, a terrorist shows up and abducts Logan. It is up to Maddie to save him. The rest of the story is full of the excitement and adventure as Maddie and Logan struggle to stay alive in the Alaskan wilderness, escape the assailant, and work through the hurt feelings that developed after six years apart.

Carter injects humor and romance into a plot filled with adventure and survival. The relationship between characters is well developed. The story is unique and full of surprises. Fans of Carter’s other books will definitely enjoy Not If I Save You First. There is a mention of the Blackthorn Academy and obviously, Maddie would make an excellent Gallagher Girl!

Rhyme Schemer

This is not your typical story about a middle school bully. K.A. Holt uses poetry to show the different sides of bullying in an authentic way that will appeal to readers in grades 5 and up.

Novel in verse, 167 pages
Interest level: grades 5 and up; high interest, lower reading level
5 out of 5 stars

The main character in Rhyme Schemer is Kevin, a 7th grader who comes from a large family with four older brothers and absentee parents who are both doctors. Kevin is the narrator, sharing his story in the form of poems that he writes in his journal and through poetry he creates by transforming pages torn from books into messages.

Rhyme Schemer is important because it shows Kevin as both a bully and a victim. Kevin is a likable character because we are allowed to know his inner thoughts through his journal entries. He openly shares his joy at bullying a classmate named Robin, but he also shares the turmoil and loneliness he feels at home. His older brother bullies him and he feels his parents don’t even know he exists.

When Kevin’s older brother throws his journal out the car window one morning, the plot shifts. Robin, the boy who was once bullied by Kevin, finds the journal and uses it to get his revenge. Robin has the upper hand now and begins to bully Kevin by threatening to reveal the poetry in his journal.

Holt has constructed the story and characters in such a way that even though Kevin was bullying kids at school, when the tables are turned, it does not feel like he is getting what he deserves. Robin’s form of bullying is much more personal and as Kevin begins to change how he acts and thinks, Robin is unrelenting. Kevin’s skills as a poet are recognized by the school librarian and she helps him find ways to use his skills in positive ways.

This book is of high interest to middle grade readers, who are looking for a less complex text that is short in length. The story can be used to begin discussions about bullying, and it would make a great text for a poetry unit. The poetry is written in the voice of a middle schooler so it will appeal. Additionally, the marking up of book pages to create poems would be a fun and engaging poetry-writing activity.

Book Scavenger

This book is such fun with all of the puzzles and ciphers. It’s also a great story about friendship, family, and love of literature.

Chapter book, fiction
Interest level: grades 4 and up
YHBA 2017-2018 intermediate nominee
5 out of 5 stars

Emily and her family has just moved to San Francisco. Emily’s parents have a goal of living in all 50 states, so while Emily is used to moving constantly and usually without any notice, she is not used to making friends. She figures why bother getting attached, since she won’t be staying anywhere.

So it is very different for her when she discovers that the boy who lives upstairs, James, shares her love of puzzles. Emily and James quickly become friends and Emily introduces James to her favorite pastime — playing the Book Scavenger game. Book Scavenger is an online game where participants hide books and then post clues and map locations for others players. The creator of the game, Garrison Griswold, lives in San Francisco, so Emily is thrilled to move to this new city.

The story begins with Garrison Griswold being attacked and a book he was going to use to begin a new scavenger game gets lost. As Griswold lies unconscious in the hospital, Emily and James discover the book, recognize it as one of Griswold’s puzzles, and are determined to solve it. So are the bad guys, which sets up tension as they are searching for the the children they know have the book.

There are similarities to the Mr. Lemoncello books by Chris Grabenstein, with puzzles and ciphers being scattered throughout the story. What makes Book Scavenger a story with depth are the growing friendships, family issues, and historical details that Jennifer Chambliss Bertman has incorporated.

Emily struggles to understand and navigate the dynamics of one of her first good friends ever. She and James have a falling out that makes her examine who she is and what her priorities are. She also confronts her brother who is no longer as close to her as he once was, and ultimately she lets her parents know how she feels about the constant moving. Emily really grows as a character, and many of her struggles can make the reader think about their own actions and feelings.

Bertman has included a lot of information about San Francisco, as well as historical writers, including Edgar Allen Poe. The information is presented in a way that is authentic to the story and educational at the same time.

The strong characters and plot, as well as the fascinating world of ciphers and puzzles, make this a well-written story that will be popular with many young readers.

The Book Scavenger game is also a real online game. You can participate by going to

I Got It!

I like the message of this wordless story — how it feels to want to do something that feels overwhelming (in this case, a child wants to join a baseball game) but how if you persevere you can overcome obstacles that feel huge at first.

Wiesner’s illustrations depict a child struggling to catch fly balls during a game. The obstacles that trip the child up, and the other players, grow larger and larger as the child struggles with insecurity. Then the child uses those things that are blocking his way to actually catapult himself into a position to catch the ball.

The first reading of this wordless book was somewhat confusing for me, so I have some concerns with the concept and illustrations resonating with younger readers. This would be a good story to share with a child so you can discuss what is happening in the illustrations and what it means.