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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

Rascal, A Memoir by Sterling North

Have you ever spotted a book that you read as a kid and glowed uncontrollably? That warm, fuzzy feeling is what I hope to capture in a time-release bottle every time I recommend a title to my sixth graders. I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m always surprised when it happens to me.

The most recent wave of tender nostalgia struck me at the sight of the 1963 memoir Rascal, by Sterling North. I was a little wary of rereading it, worried that the story and the characters hadn’t aged well and I’d be crushed. I wasn’t.

Rascal is refreshingly wholesome. It’s the perfect antidote to today’s relentless fervor for dystopian worlds, zombies, and vampires. Read More 

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Icefall, by Matthew Kirby

My Dad sure can tell a story! We’ll be on the edge of our seats one moment, wondering if he survived some brutal, post-war military exercise (and, duh, of course he did because he’s telling us the story, 60 years later...), and then laughing hysterically as he explains how he showed off for pretty Fräuleins on the German Alps (one hitch: the handsome American soldier didn’t know how to ski!).

I imagine author Matthew Kirby has a storyteller in his past. After reading his fabulous debut novel, The Clockwork Three, I was thrilled when my sister Lorraine came home from a middle grade author buzz panel at BookExpo America with an advanced copy of his second novel, ICEFALL.

Whoo boy. What a story!

Set in Medieval Norway, three Viking children have been spirited away to a hidden fortress for safety while their father defends his kingdom against an enemy warlord. The kids are in the care of trusted family servants and soldiers—or so they think. Winter is setting in (no small thing in the mountains of Norway). Supplies are low.

The plot gets spicy early with the arrival of the king’s special forces, a group of about 20 fearsome berserkers. Tagging along with the soldiers is Alric the skald, the king’s personal storyteller.

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The Last Newspaper Boy in America, by Sue Corbett

If you enjoy a little mystery in your realistic fiction, if you believe that everyone should have access to important events, if you enjoy cheering on the underdog... then THE LAST NEWSPAPER BOY IN AMERICA, by Sue Corbett, is for you. This book attracted my attention because I'm saddened by the decline of real newspapers (the kind I can hold).

The main character, Wilson Glen David the fifth, and his family live in the rural town of Steele—thus his nickname: "Wil of Steele." On his 12th birthday, Wil looks forward to taking over the family tradition of delivering the paper to Steele residents. Like his brothers, father, and grandfather before him, he has an uncanny accuracy for tossing newspapers from his bike. That skill should help him earn the money to buy a laptop computer.

Then, the news is released that the The Caller will be ending delivery to Steele. Wil gets to work to reverse that decision.

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The Clockwork Three, by Matthew J. Kirby

Wow! Wow! Wow! This is the debut novel of Matthew Kirby and Wow! (I say again) it is terrific. It reminds me of so many stories, and yet the plot is unique. (My sister Lorraine passed along an ARC of Kirby's next book, Icefall, which I like even more; review coming soon.)

Three characters, Giuseppe, Hannah, and Frederick all live in a bustling, late-1800s port city bordered by McCauley Park, an area that has never been developed. Parts of the park are so wild that cougars still live there.

Each of the three characters needs something, and they can't achieve their goals without helping each other. Giuseppe (joo-SEP-ee) is a street musician who longs to return home to Italy. Fredrick is an apprentice clockmaker who wants to make journeyman (a step above apprentice) by creating the most amazing clockwork man (a type of automaton) the world has seen. Hannah has had to quit school to support her family as a maid in a fancy hotel. Her father is seriously ill, and she desperately needs money for the medicine to help him.

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The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar

That's my Uncle Bob, playing a family game of Michigan rummy. My mother's about to hammer down the ace of spades (left).


When I heard about THE CARDTURNER: A NOVEL ABOUT A KING, A QUEEN, AND A JOKER, the new book by Louis Sachar (Holes, There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom, and Sideways Stories from Wayside School), I had to have a copy for my own bookshelf, let alone the classroom lending library.

Playing cards and board games was a central part of growing up in the Hopping household. To this day, whenever we get together, some game or another eventually comes off the shelf.*

THE CARDTURNER quickly pulled me into the not-so-great life of 17-year-old Alton Richards. What kind of a name is Alton, anyway! Alton drives a beat up car, has no money, no job, and suddenly, as summer vacation begins, he has no girlfriend.

On top of all that, his mother insists that he drive his very wealthy great uncle Lester to Bridge Club four times a week. Bridge is a "boring" card game that Alton knows nothing and cares nothing about. The truth, as Alton well knows, is that Mom wants him to be nice so that old Uncle Lester will remember them in his will.

Alton has been dealt a pretty crummy hand and is feeling a little "played" himself! Even so, he copes by maintaining a dry sense of humor.

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