All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman coverGladys Gatsby had been doing a great job of keeping her cooking addiction a secret from her parents. But one day she resorts to using the blow torch she found in the garage to finish her crème brûlée and sets the kitchen on fire. Her parents arrive home just in time to witness the fire and are flabbergasted that she’s been doing something as dangerous as cooking. They take away her cooking privileges. Why can’t she just go to the mall after school like a normal kid?

After the little fire-starting incident Gladys is stuck with parent-approved activities: play outside, go to the mall, play on the computer, and she’s nothing less than miserable. Before long, though, Gladys’ new teacher unknowingly sets her on a path to become a restaurant reviewer for a New York newspaper. The only trouble is, she’s going to have to find a way to get to New York without her parents finding out.

This is a fun and funny read. Gladys’ parents are kind and perplexed but otherwise struck me like the parents in Roald Dahl’s Matilda, anxious for her to do all the things most parents don’t want their kids doing. Gladys’ antics in order to achieve her dream were charming and her worry about how she might be using others to achieve it noteworthy.

This is a great middle grade read. There’s such satisfaction, even as an adult, in reading a story in which a kid secretly manages a grown-up job. Kids will cheer to read about Gladys’ adventures and the cast of characters that help her find a way to reach her dreams.

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

gracefullygrayson   Hyperion, Nov. 4, 2014.

When Grayson was in third grade he learned how to draw a princess secretly so he wouldn’t get teased by kids who thought boys shouldn’t like to draw princesses. In his room, also in secret, Grayson learned to squint his eyes just right so that his shiny purple athletic pants looked like an elegant skirt. By sixth grade Grayson’s a pro at secrets, but suddenly keeping Grayson’s true self secret is a problem. So Grayson decides to put aside the secrets and to take one leap after another on a courageous path to reveal to the world his true self.

Gracefully Grayson is a sensitively told and affirming tale about an amazing kid. Grayson is utterly likeable and real. Grayson is very certain that, though born in a boy’s body, Grayson’s true identity is female. As I read I felt Grayson’s pain, mentally urged the other characters to accept Grayson, and worried for Grayson as the story unfolded. Though this story is about a transgender kid coming out, it’s not an issues book. It’s a complex story with characters that react both predictably and unpredictably to events–as people do in the real world. It’s the strong plot and the main character that made this a book I couldn’t put down until I finished it — and one I immediately wished I hadn’t finished because I wanted to keep reading.

I think this would be a great book for upper-elementary school and middle school students to read. There’s a lot of love in Grayson’s life and a good amount of acceptance, but the road’s certainly not easy. Grayson’s own certainty of Grayson’s gender identity makes the story fascinating rather than excruciating. I think this novel will help non-transgender students to build understanding and empathy for transgender individuals. It might provide a great means for talking about transgender issues with tweens. I think it would be encouraging for transgender kids who read it. We all learn and gain encouragement from seeing ourselves in a book, especially when the book shows us that we can be loved and accepted for the person we are. A fabulous debut and a great addition to school and classroom libraries and gift lists, Gracefully Grayson will be out November 4.

I read an advance reader copy of Gracefully Grayson courtesy of Net Galley and Disney Hyperion. This is one I’ll buy and add to my library!

‘Tis the Season for Scary Stories

coldest-girl-in-coldtown

As the leaves turn, the weather cools, and the sun sets early my mind turns to stories that put their characters into creepy settings, encountering things both magic and mysterious. Here are some links to my recent reviews of middle grade and young adult novels that are perfect to read before Halloween.

Middle Grade:

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

The Thickety: A Path Begins by J. A. White

Grave Images by Jenny Goebel

Young Adult:

Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann

In the Keep of Time by Margaret J. Anderson

In the Keep of Time

Scholastic Books, 1977.

I spend most of my reading time these days reading just published or soon-to -be published books. Recently, however, I went back to this favorite from my childhood. I remembered the basic premise of the book, though not the details and wondered if I’d still like it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading In the Keep of Time again, and it didn’t feel dated or too slow to develop as older books can.

It’s a familiar set up; four siblings, two boys and two girls find themselves in Scotland for the summer with a relative they don’t really know who will take care of them while their parents are away. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe the children begin in the English countryside and are transported to Narnia. In Swallows and Amazons, The Penderwicks, and The Boxcar Children, the children are this side of the pond and manage to have adventures simply by being left on their own in the real world. In the Keep of Time, as the title suggests, an ancient castle and a magical key transport the children back in time to the 15th century. Immediately there’s trouble, not only are the children out of their proper time, but the youngest, Ollie, seems to have had her body and mind meshed with a little girl from that long-ago time. Now they’ve got to figure out how to extricate Ollie and also travel back to their own century.

Readers who enjoy history will enjoy this book. The scenes vividly depict the way of life for the Scots in the 15th century, and the children get caught up in a time of raids and battles between the Scots and the English. There’s also a good bit of tension involved when it comes to the question of whether or not they’ll be able to make it back to their own time.

I figured this book would long be out of print, and it is. But there are used copies to be had online. It is also available in Kindle format, as is one of the two sequels, In the Circle of Time. I found the second sequel, Mists of Time, which is not available on Kindle, in my library network. I’ve never read the other books, but now that I’ve reread In the Keep of Time, I may well seek them out.