Wednesday, September 4, 2013


In The Madman’s Daughter, debut novelist Megan Shepherd transforms H.G. Well’s classic Island of Dr. Moreau into a romantic horror story.  Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau is just a step away from homelessness after her father, the famous Dr. Moreau, fled Victorian London in disgrace and her mother died of tuberculosis.  Juliet is able to fend for herself by working as a janitress in the morgue of a medical school, a huge step down for a young woman brought up in high society.  Accused of conducting horrific experiments, Dr. Moreau abandoned his family to avoid arrest.  For ten years, Juliet thought her father died after leaving, but she discovers evidence that leads her to believe not only is Dr. Moreau alive but still living in London.  In a decrepit tavern, she does not find her father but instead encounters a ghost from her past. 

Montgomery and Juliet grew up together.  He was the son of her family’s maid.  Dr. Moreau treated Montgomery as his own child and when he left, he took the boy with him.  Juliet learns that her father is very much alive and Montgomery has been working as his assistant all this time.  The two live in a former Spanish fort on a remote Pacific island.  Montgomery returns to England just once a year to gather supplies for their research.  Dangerously close to being destitute and desperate to see her father, Juliet demands that Montgomery take her on the voyage back to the island.  No amount of arguing can dissuade Juliet, but when she arrives on Dr. Moreau’s island, she realizes living on the streets of London would have been safer than where she is now.  All the rumors about her father’s work are true, and the island’s strange inhabitants threaten everyone’s life.

This gruesome novel will appeal to fans of the Twilight series, though The Madman’s Daughter has more substance.  The themes of animal rights and genetic engineering are thoroughly explored.  Shepherd’s writing is tense and exciting.  The suspense builds through the novel and the ending is a surprise.  The only disappointment in book is the unnecessary love triangle.  Juliet seems more fixated at times with her raging hormones than her potential demise.  Her conflicting feelings for Montgomery and Edward, a castaway they discover on the voyage to the island, bog down the story.  Otherwise, The Madman’s Daughter is a gripping tale of scientist discovery taken a step too far.  Recommended for grades 8 and up. 

Four out of five stars.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


The Middle School Book Club will meet on October 2, 2013 at lunch to discuss Summer of the Gypsy Moths.  You can read my review of of Sara Pennypacker's wonderful novel here.  All students are welcome.  As always, pizza will be provided.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Book Review: ONE CAME HOME

Georgie Burkhardt refuses to accept that the body that the sheriff brought back to Placid is her sister. Sure, the corpse has red hair and is wearing the same dress that her sister owned, but the body is too decomposed to convince Georgie that her older sister Agatha is really gone. Even though her mother and grandfather accept that Agatha is dead, Georgie wants to retrace the steps that her sister took when she ran away weeks ago to find out what really happened. Putting her own life in danger, Georgie sets off on a journey that unveils her own role in her sister's disappearance.

Set in 1871 Wisconsin, Amy Timberlake's novel combines historical fiction with mystery. Though it takes a while to gain momentum, One Came Home is dark and intriguing novel that can appeal to a wide audience. Georgie is strong protagonist who is not completely likable, which might bother some readers. Those who can endure the slow start and don't mind Georgie's gritty demeanor will be rewarded with beautifully written story.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


When Mallory catches her boyfriend cheating on her with an online girl, she decides it is time to take a break from technology. The next day, while packing up her grandmother’s house, she finds a list, written by her grandmother, of things that she wanted to achieve during her junior year in high school. Seeing this list convinces Mallory that life in the 1960s was easier and she would like to live a simpler life herself. She decides to go vintage; if it did not exist in 1962, then it’s not part of her life. Mallory changes her wardrobe, tosses her phones, abandons her computer, and gives up the reality television shows she loves. She plans to keep this social experiment going until she accomplishes all the items on her grandmother’s list. She has to form a pep club and become its secretary, make a float for the homecoming parade, host a dinner party, sew her own homecoming dress, and find a steady. All of these tasks prove difficult as does being a high school student without the use of any technology. Who has a typewriter for class assignments? Luckily Mallory has a lot of patience and a wonderfully supportive sister, Ginny. During her project, Mallory learns about a lot about life in the 1960s, our dependence on technology, her own family’s secrets, and how to find happiness within herself.

Going Vintage is a refreshing, lighthearted novel that is perfect for fans of Meg Cabot. Leavitt stays away from sex, drugs, or heavy subject matter, and just offers a really funny, enjoyable story. Readers can relate to Mallory and enjoy her humorous exploits. They might even consider taking a break from their own gadgets for a while.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Middle School Bookclub Discusses LEGEND

Last week the Middle School Bookclub met during lunch to discuss Marie Lu's dystopian novel Legend.  This book was very popular with the 12 students between the ages of 10 and 14 who came to the meeting.  In Legend, the United States has broken apart and the western section of the continent is now know as the Republic.  To win its ongoing war against its neighbor, the Republic tests all children at the age of 13.  Those who do well go to military training schools; those who do not succeed are sent to government labor camps and never heard from again.  June was born into an elite military family and it is no surprise that she earns the highest score ever on the exam.  Day comes from a poor neighborhood with few opportunities to get ahead.  After he fails his exam, Day escapes his fate and becomes the most wanted criminal in the Republic.    When June's brother is murdered, Day is the prime suspect.  She goes undercover to find Day, but when she learns more about the government's role both their lives, June and Day form an important bond.

Here are our discussion questions:

1.  The events of Legend take place over a hundred years in the future. What do you imagine the United States will be like a century from now? Do you think it could resemble the fractured country in Legend?

2. What do their relationships with Tess and Thomas mean to Day and June? Why do you think Day continues to travel with Tess? What did you think of Thomas when he was first introduced? Why did June trust Thomas?

3. After learning the truth about Day, why do you think the government treated him the way they did?

4. How did you feel about the romance between June and Day?  Do you think there is too much romance in dystopian novels or does it work well with the genre?

5. Is there anything from Day’s memories of his childhood that hint at what John will ultimately do for his brother on the day of Day’s planned execution?  Were you surprised by the ending

6. What would Legend have been like if only Day or June narrated the book? If you had to pick a character other than Day or June to narrate Legend, who would it be and why?

7. What role does the plague have in Legend? How is it symbolic?

8. Near the end of Legend we learn that Day’s pendant is an American quarterfrom 1990. Why is this coin symbolic? What other symbols appear in Legend?

9. What do you think the book’s title means? Who or what does “legend” refer to?

10. Legend is the first installment of a trilogy. What do you think is in store for Day and June in the next book in the series?  If you have read Prodigy, did it live up to your expectations?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review: TWERP

After returning from a weeklong suspension for a bullying incident, Julian Twerski is given the opportunity be exempt from writing a report on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by instead keeping a journal. His English teacher wants him to write about the event that led to his punishment. Julian has no problem writing about his daily struggles as a sixth grade boy, but he has no intention of writing about what he did to Stanley. Julian’s journal instead covers the exploits of his friend Lonnie, his first date, and his attempt to maintain his title of fast kid in school. He avoids the dreaded topic of bullying until the very last chapter where he finally describes participating in an act of cruelty on a mentally disabled boy.  

Twerp, is being marketed as an anti-bullying book, which is a topic much sought after by middle schools. Unfortunately, Twerp does very little to address that issue. Instead, the book is more of a coming-of-age story that reads like several episodes of the television show The Wonder Years mashed together until its dramatic climax at the end. Julian is ambivalent about his actions for months after the event until he is forced to write them. Only after he describes his attack on Stanley does he experience any remorse. For much of the novel, his bullying incident is barely mentioned.

As a coming-of-age story, Twerp is humorous; though, Julian’s narration is too mature for a sixth grade, even if he is gifted. His stories are charming, but I’m not sure they would appeal to sixth grade boys. Julian’s relationship with his friends, particularly Lonnie, is well developed and realistic. It is easy to see how Julian is lured into behavior he would not normally consider by charismatic Lonnie. The character of Eduardo is not realistic at all; his lines read like Javier Bardem trapped in a 13 year-old’s body. 

While I think Mark Goldblatt has a talent for writing humorous dialog, Twerp is another book that will interest adults more than children. I would recommend giving this book to readers who enjoy Gary D. Schmidt’s works.

3 out of 5 stars

Friday, March 22, 2013


In 1950s New Orleans, smart and resourceful Josie is the daughter of an uncaring prostitute. Her mother Louise works in a high-end brothel run by Willie, a shrewd yet surprising thoughtful madam. Though Josie has been living on her own since she was twelve, Willie has always been looking out for her. Now that Josie is seventeen, she wants to leave the craziness of the Big Easy. She has her sights on enrolling at Smith College; however, the murder of a wealthy businessman in the Quarter threatens to destroy her plans. 

Out of the Easy takes a rich setting adds fascinating characters and drops in a little mystery to create a wonderful novel. It is very hard to put this book down. Josie’s almost Cinderella story will entice teen readers. The book suffers a bit through an unnecessary love-triangle, but thankfully romance plays only a small part in the story. Where the book really shines is in the relationship between Willie and Josie. Willie is based real-life New Orleans madam Norma Wallace, and she is hilarious. Though Out of the Easy contains mature themes, Septeys plays it safe with the descriptions and dialogue. This novel is appropriate for grades 8 and up.

4 out of 5 stars


Six hurricanes post Katrina have devastated the Gulf Coast.  Those who survived and remained in New Orleans were hit with a deadly blood disease.  Unable to find a cure and fearful that the disease would spread throughout the country, the United States government built a militarized wall around the city.  Residents behind the wall were left to die, but that’s not what happened.  New Orleans may have perished but Orleans is still fighting. 

In the years following the construction of the wall, those left behind discovered that the disease affects the various blood types differently.  O Positive and Negative types are carriers of Delta Fever but do not suffer the symptoms.  All other blood types suffer a slow, painful death unless they can receive constant blood transfusions.  This creates a dangerous situation for the O-Positives and O-Negs who must stick together to avoid being kidnapped and forced into being a blood slave.

Fen de la Guerre is the fifteen year old heroine of Orleans.  Her parents were killed and after a few horrific years of being on her own, she is taken in by an O-Positive tribe.  When her tribe's chieftain dies in childbirth, Fen saves her baby and promises to give the child a better life.  She has five days to find a way to get the newborn over the wall and out of Orleans before the child contracts the virus.

Daniel is a promising epidemiologist who lost his beloved little brother to Delta Fever.  Living in the Outer States, he has spent years looking for a cure and has come very close.  Unfortunately, his new miracle drug not only kills the virus, it also kills the host.  He does not have access to good specimens for testing and development on his side of the wall; therefore, he decides to undertake a risky, secretive mission to illegally enter Orleans to gather the necessary data to fix his cure.  He expects to find an uninhabited wasteland, but what he discovers is a very dangerous city with plenty of survivors.  If he hopes to get out of Orleans, Daniel is going to have to partner with Fen and help her save the newborn baby.

Sherri L. Smith’s new dystopian novel is a wildly imaginative adventure that would pair well with the film Beasts of the Southern Wild or the novel Shipbreaker.  The setting is both haunting and intriguing.  The pacing of the novel moves very quickly, and the intense scenes will appeal to horror fans.  There is quite a bit of violence, including a rape, which renders the book more appropriate for older teens.  In a nice change from the abundance of young adult dystopian novels published these days, Orleans does not bother with a romance storyline.   Fen is a strong main character who never veers from her mission of protecting the newborn.  Daniel is less well developed but still very interesting.  Their story will stick with readers long after the novel is over.

4.5 of out 5 stars
Recommended for grades 9 and up

Thursday, February 28, 2013


A simple plan: break into Abraham Lincoln’s tomb, steal his corpse, hide the body, demand $200,000 and the release of convicted counterfeiter Benjamin Boyd as a ransom. Steve Sheinkin’s Lincoln’s Grave Robbers proves that fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. This true crime thriller details how the Secret Service was able to capture and convict master counterfeiter Boyd in 1875. With Boyd in jail, the supply of high-quality counterfeit money dried up, causing a real headache for criminals on the streets of Chicago. Several “coney men” were desperate to get Boyd out of jail and back to work. They concocted a wild plan to secure the release of the engraver from prison by snatching President Lincoln’s body. Fortunately, the Secret Service had an uncover snitch who helped them foil the plan.  

Sheinkin’s fascinating page-turner is perfect for middle school readers and pairs well with James Swanson’s Chasing Lincoln’s Killer. These two well-written books are excellent examples of how exciting narrative non-fiction can be. I hope Scholastic and other publishers will continue to publish these types of works as teachers try to encourage more non-fiction reading in the classroom. My only problem with Lincoln’s Grave Robbers is the cover, which is too dark and not eye-catching. Readers can easily overlook this great book on library or bookstore selves, which would be a real shame.  
4.5 out of 5 stars
Grades 5 and up 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The Mighty Mars Rovers describes the six year mission of Spirit and Opportunity. Steven Squyres's tough rovers were meant to last just three months, but they were able to battle though treacherous terrain, mechanical errors and long sandstorms to send back valuable data proving the existence of water on Mars. As Rusch states, the rovers "did the work of geologists, meteorologists, chemists, photographers, mountain climbers, and crater trekkers." What The Mighty Mars Rovers does well is show that scientific discovery takes a lot of patient trial and error. When trying to see if Opportunity could venture down a giant crater, NASA scientists had to work months to create simulations on Earth of Opportunity's situation before they could comfortably send the rover down a steep hill. While this book provides interesting information about the planet Mars, it focuses mostly on engineering process of building and maintaining the rovers. My only reservation about The Mighty Mars Rovers is that the layout of the book can be distracting at times. A few of the sidebars make it difficult to follow the main narrative; also, the photographic background of the Martian surface makes the text difficult to read on several pages.  

The Mighty Mars Rovers is an excellent resource for teaching space exploration and discovery.

Grades 5 and up 
3.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, February 25, 2013


Siebert Medal winner Tanya Lee Stone's new book tells the story of the Triple Nickles, America's first all black paratrooper company. Stone describes how the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion came into being during World War II. Despite strong institutional racism, the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies recommended the formation of an all-black airborne unit in December of 1942. First Sergeant Walter Morris had been training black soldiers to be paratroopers for a while, but the Triple Nickles was not officially activated until December 1943 at Fort Benning, Georgia. Through they were a well-trained company, they were not allowed to serve overseas during the war. Instead, they were sent to Pendleton, Oregon where they fought against a secret attack by Japanese. Stone's book highlights the honor and bravery of the Triple Nickles. These men wanted to fight to protect America but instead had to silently suffer horrible treatment from their own government. They hoped that their efforts would bring about a more egalitarian Armed Forces. Stone also explains a fascinating, little-known attempt by the Japanese to instill terror in American society. 

Courage Has No Color is a well-written book that adds another chapter to the history of World War II. Stone's narrative deftly balances the history of the Triple Nickles with first-person accounts from the soldiers. The books’s beautiful layout, coupled with great photography, adds to the story. This novel is an excellent companion to Shelley Pearsall's Jump into the Sky. Though I believe Stone did a superb job telling this story, I do wonder about reader interest. I am afraid that the story might not be interesting enough to entice middle grade readers. Those who do pick up Courage Has No Color will be rewarded.

3.5 Stars out of 5
Grades 5 and up

Book Review: MUSH

Joe Funk's Mush is short overview of the Iditarod race, focusing primarily on the dogs. The photography in the book is beautiful, and the layout is not overwhelming or distracting to the reader. The information is straightforward and easy to digest, making it a perfect high interest, low reading level book. Funk does not present his information in the typical chronological manner, which makes the book feel a little choppy. I would have like more information about the history of the race and the dangers, but that would have made the book longer. Mush would work very well in the classroom for modeling non-fiction reading. It would also be a good starting point for students to research about this historic race.

4 out of 5 stars
Grades 4 and up


Judith and Dennis Fradin's short, illustrated book tells the story of a group of Ohio residents who thwart the capture of a runaway slave. Kentucky slaves John Price, his cousin Dinah and their friend Frank followed the underground railroad into Ohio in January of 1856. They intended to go to Canada where their freedom would be guaranteed, but they decided to stay in the welcoming town of Oberlin. In October of that year, several slave hunters arrived in Oberlin to find the men. With the help of one of the few local families in support of the Fugitive Slave Law, they are able to grab John Price and take him to Wellington, Ohio. Believing in a "higher law," hundreds of Oberlinians go to Wellington a free John before the slave hunters are able to force him aboard a train back to Kentucky. This event became known as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. 

With powerful illustrations, the Fradlins show one of the little known, yet important events that would lead to the Civil War.  Price of Freedom is an excellent classroom novel for studying the Underground Railroad. It can be read aloud in about 10 minutes and would easily fuel discussion and further research.

4 out of 5 stars
Grades 4 and up

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: HOLD FAST

Dash Pearl loves words and puzzles, and he has passed this passion on to his daughter Early and son Jubilation.  He often comes home with riddles, rhymes and interesting stories to entertain Early and Jubie.  Though Dash can barely support his wife and children with his meager salary as a page in the Chicago Public Library System, he has big dreams that his family can one day move out of their one room apartment and into their own home.  When a mysterious man offers Dash a second job selling used books out of the Pearl family’s apartment, Dash quickly accepts.  Early is suspicious of her father’s new high paying work, but she cannot image that her father would be doing anything wrong.  However, when Dash disappears, his wife Summer fears that something terrible has happened to him and it must be connected to his second job.  The police believe Dash is involved in criminal activity and has abandoned his family. 

The Pearls face more misfortune when masked men break into their apartment, take all of their valuables, and smash everything that is left.  Without money or an income, Summer has no choice but to take her family to Helping Hand Shelter.  The Pearls quickly learn how difficult life in a homeless shelter can be.  The lack of privacy, long lines, and constant illnesses in the shelter wear on the family.  Early knows that her father would never purposely leave them or break the law.  If she can just figure out the clues Dash left behind, she can find her father and clear his name.   Then the family can get back to working on fulfilling their dreams.

Blue Balliett’s new novel does an excellent job of illustrating the hardships of the working poor and the homeless. Hold Fast shows how crippling these hardships can be for children.  Early is the target of ridicule at school because her peers know where she is living, Jubie becomes sick from the illnesses spread at the shelter, and it seems impossible for Summer to find a job without decent day care options for her son.  Despite all the wonderful services Helping Hand offers, the Pearls would be stuck in this shelter without the support of Dash.  The reader wants the Pearls to succeed, and Balliet’s novel would surely lead to more empathy for the homeless. 

Though the Pearl family’s story is very compelling, the mystery in Hold Fast is not.  Early’s investigation is a dry read, and Balliet takes the last thirty pages of the novel to explain what happened to Dash.  I’ve had trouble selling students on Balliet’s novels, and I fear I will experience the same problems with Hold Fast.  As a former teacher, Balliet wants to incorporate poetry and math into her stories, which is laudable, but the result is often laborious for readers.

3.5 out of 5 Stars
Grades 5 and up

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Carley Conner’s new stepfather was supposed to bring security and safety to her and her mother, but she knew he was bad news from the start. One night he beats Carley and her mother so badly that they are hospitalized. Carley recovers in a few days, but her mother has much more serious injuries that will require her to remain in the hospital for months. Carley is placed in a foster home with the Murphys, a kind family who will change Carley’s life forever. Carley likes her new life with the Murphys so much that she pretends she is part of their family. Unfortunately, her new friend discovers that Carley has been lying about her past and is none too happy. To make matters worse, her mother starts to recover and wants Carley back. 

Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s debut novel is a promising start. She crafts compelling characters who are likable despite numerous flaws. She also gives a realistic view of the issues foster children face. Hunt does good job of developing the relationship between Mrs. Murphy and Carley, but the other relationships in the novel fall flat. Carley and Toni’s friendship seems forced, and Rainer is fairly boring bully. The most interesting relationship in the book should be between Carley and her mother, but Hunt gives few details about their past. One for the Murphys also suffers from its numerous plot holes. It’s not believable that Carley enters a new middle school halfway through the year in a small town and no one knows she is a foster child. Also, Mr. Murphy is constantly watching Red Sox baseball games while his son is trying out for basketball. Hunt should know that sports work within a calendar and these two sports don’t happen at the same time. 

Though One for the Murphys is a likeable story, it does not stand up well among other strong novels about foster children like Jill Wolfson’s What I Call Life or Patricia Reilly Giff’s Pictures of Hollis Woods

For grades 5 and up
3 out of 5 stars

Middle School Book Club Discusses SLOB

The middle school book club met today during lunch to discuss Ellen Potter's novel Slob.  In Slob,  seventh grader Owen is an overweight genius who is has one problem after another to overcome.  When he is not trying to thwart the most evil gym teacher in the world from humiliating him or trying to catch whoever is stealing his Oreo every day out of his lunch, Owen is working on his invention: Nemesis. Nemesis is a like a television that can show events that happened in the past.  As the story unfolds, the reader learns why this invention is so important to Owen and what it is that he desperately needs to see.  Potter's short novel mixes some heavy issues with humor and fascinating characters.  Though many of our club members were unhappy with the novel's ending, everyone enjoyed this month's selection.  We had lots to discuss over our pizza lunch.

Slob Discussion Questions:

  1. Describe Mr. Wooly.  Could you image a teacher really being like him? How does he add to the story?
  2. What did you think of the GWAB group?  Why do you think Jeremy wanted to be part of the group?
  3. Did your opinion of Jeremy change over the course of the novel?
  4. Who did you suspect was stealing Owen’s cookies?
  5. Who can explain Owen’s invention Nemesis?
  6. Did you ever suspect that Zelda was not Owen’s real mother?  When did you first realize the truth?
  7. How did you react when you learned what really happened to Owen’s parents?
  8. Who wrote the note SLOB? What did you think it meant and what did it really mean?
  9. Why do you think Owen held on to the note and what did he let it go in the end?
  10. How did your opinion of Mason change over the course of the novel?
  11. Did you find this novel to be too dark or depressing for middle school?
  12. Would you recommend this novel to anyone? If so, who?

Our selection for March will be Legend by Marie Lu. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Book Review: PEANUT

Sadie desperately wants to fit in at her new high school.  She was not popular at her previous school, and she believes she needs an interesting story to get her new peers to notice her immediately.  Peanut allergies get a lot of attention.  Everyone knows the kids who could die if they ingest the wrong thing in the cafeteria, and it’s an easy conversation starter.  What could go wrong if she faked a peanut allergy?  Sadie gets a personalized medical alert bracelet online and a lie is born. After she gives an oral report about her “medical issues” in her homeroom, a couple of classmates invite her to sit with them in the cafeteria.  Then an attractive boy starts fawning over her.  With a boyfriend and new friends, Sadie is happy, but she finds that keeping up the lie is harder than she ever imagined. 

Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe’s graphic novel gives a realistic picture of the fears new students face.  Making friends and fitting in can be daunting. Over my years of the teaching, I have witnessed several new students telling lies about their past to seem more interesting.  When the truth is revealed, the consequences can be quite painful.  Sadie probably could have made friends by being herself, and fabricating her elaborate medical history never allowed her to really relax and enjoy her new friendships.  Peanut is a great cautionary tale for those kids who sometimes feel the need to fictionalize their lives.   Nobody likes to be caught telling a lie.  The novel also gives detailed information about allergies and how to treat them. 

Peanut would be an enjoyable book for middle school readers.  The characters are well developed, the plot is interesting, and the illustrations are nicely done.  However, a few mature words and drawings render the book inappropriate for middle schools.  I wish Halliday and Hoppe had left those out so that their book could be enjoyed by a wider audience.

3.5 out of 5 stars.
Grades 8 and up

Friday, February 1, 2013


At the end of World War II, Jack’s mother dies of an aneurysm just before his highly decorated father returns from fighting in the Navy.  Jack’s father continues to serve in the military, which means Jack must move from his home in Kansas to a boarding school in Maine so that he can be near his father.  Jack feels like a fish out of water at his new school.  The only connection he makes at Morton Hill Academy for Boys is with Early Auden, an orphan at the boarding school who rarely attends classes.  Early might be considered an autistic savant today.  He lives in the school basement, possibly has epilepsy, and is obsessed with the number pi.  Like Jack, Early has experienced devastating loss; his brother is believed to have been killed in action during the war.  Jack and Early form an unlikely friendship when Jack needs help learning to row, a popular sport at their school. 

During fall break, Jack is supposed to leave with his father, but unfortunately his dad cancels at the last minute.  All the other boys at Morton Hill are taking off with their families, except Early.  Early is planning on going on a journey, and Jack, not wanting to be alone and afraid of Early going anywhere on his own, decides to accompany him.  Jack has no idea what Early’s intentions with this trip are, but he is about to go on the adventure of a lifetime that will feature a giant bear, pirates, a lost hero, a hidden cave, a hundred-year-old woman, a murder mystery, a great white whale, and a timber rattlesnake.

Newbery award-winning author Clare Vanderpool’s new novel is a story about friendship, grief, and self-discovery.  Navigating Early is a Huckleberry Finn meets The Odyssey novel for middle grades readers.  Vanderpool creates a wild story with humorous characters.  You have to suspend disbelief when the novel starts to weave numerous storylines together at the end, but the final result is quite beautiful.  I think Navigating Early would work much better as a read-aloud where children could discuss the complex storyline with peers and adults.  I’m not sure that the novel’s intended audience would be able to appreciate the multi-layered story and all the literary devices Vanderpool employs on their own. It is unfortunate that Navigating Early is not as accessible as Vanderpool's brilliant previous novel Moon Over Manifest.

3.5 stars out of 5
Grades 5 and up