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By Kenneth Oppel

Matt Cruse is living his dream, working on the airship Aurora.  One day, they run into a dying air balloonist who utters last words of beautiful creatures.

Then, 2 years later, the answer to all of Matt’s questions boards the ship. Kate de Vries is the granddaughter of Benjamin Molloy, the air balloonist. On their journey to Australia, pirates rob them, and a storm sets them off course. Then they are forced to land on a mysterious island, which is where all the fun and adventure begins.

I like this book because it’s very adventurous and romantic at the same time. It made me want to curl up under a blanket and drink hot cocoa.


A 2005 Michael L Printz Honor Book (ALA) 

Winner of the 2005 Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award

Winner of the 2004 Red Maple Award (OLA)

Check out the Airborn website: There are a lot of cool things there.


Dead End in Norvelt

By Jack Gantos

Newbery Medal Winner, 2012

When I glanced at my Middle School Battle of the Books list and saw Dead End in Norvelt, I nearly jumped for joy.

In the beginning of the book, you don’t really expect for a young boy to fire off a WWII Japanese rifle, and cause the town’s obituary writer to drop her hearing aid down the toilet.

Now that the damage has been done, Jack is “grounded for life” and has to help waxy-handed Ms. Volker write the town’s obituaries — and there are a lot of them to write as the original bunch of Norvelt are dieing off. Another thing to add to the sandwich is that Jack always has a nosebleed when he is scared or nervous, but Ms. Volker, who has to heat up her hands on a stove, fixes that.

I like this book because it’s really funny even though it talks about death.  It made me want to write obituaries for Ms. Volker, but I wouldn’t want to be operated on by her.


You can read more about the book at the author’s website or the publisher’s website (which has videos, too!).

Be sure to check out Jack Gantos’ bio.

This year I have cashed in my one-way, no-backing-out ticket to middle school. One of my middle school joys is Battle of the Books, where we meet after school and discuss books.

Also during the meetings we come up with questions for the competition that will be held in February. There is a list of about 26 books, give or take a few (I had already read some of them, so I had a head start!). Our mentor, Ms. Carley, is really nice.

After long and hard thought, I have decided to include the list for your viewing pleasure***:

Middle School Battle of the Books List, 2012 – 2013, Wake County, NC

Title                                            Author

Airborn                                    Kenneth Oppel

Bronx Masquerade                  Nikki Grimes

Chicken Boy                           Frances O’Roark Dowell

Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two        Joseph Bruchac

Dead End in Norvelt                 Jack Gantos

Death Cloud                              Andrew Lane

Diamonds in the Shadow           Caroline B. Cooney

Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie    Jordan Sonnenblick

Everlost                                        Neal Shusterman

Flush                                             Carl Hiaasen

Freak the Mighty                          Rodman Philbrick

George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War                      Thomas B. Allen

The Graveyard Book                    Neil Gaiman

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life        Wendy Mass

Just Ella                                         Margaret Peterson Haddix

Left for Dead: A Young Man’s Search for Justice for the USS Indianapolis   Peter Nelson

The Nine-Pound Hammer              John Claude Bemis

Out of My Mind                             Sharon M. Draper

Peak                                                 Roland Smith

Peter and the Starcatchers               Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science- John Fleischman

Saraswati’s Way                              Monica Schroder

Stones in Water                               Donna Jo Napoli

Storm Warriors                                Elisa Carbone

Under the Mesquite                          Guadalupe Garcia McCall

The Wednesday Wars                       Gary D. Schmidt

White Fang                                       Jack London

~LitKid (11-year-old reviewer)

*** Please keep in mind some of the content in some of the books can be scary for those 9 and below; you should get your parents to background-check the books before you read them if you are that age.

P.S. You can visit this link on the Quail Ridge Books and Music web site to download this year’s middle school and elementary school Battle of the Books lists.


Zen Shorts

(a Caldecott Honor book)

By Jon J. Muth

With LitKid in middle school and reading novels nonstop, we don’t revisit our picture books as often as we should. They’ve never been put away –  in fact, we display them as the works of art that they are – but sitting down to read them together is a rare thing these days.

Retreating into our old favorites is probably a perfect antidote to the frenetic feeling that comes with the juggling of homework, swimming, etc. So in honor of Picture Book Month, we’re setting out to revisit as many favorites as possible (ideally, one for every day of November, but we’ll see how that goes). We may not have time for full-fledged reviews, but we’ll at least post what we’re reading; with any luck, we’ll introduce you to something new or remind you to go back and read an old favorite.

Tonight, after a long night of  homework, we took turns reading aloud the first two stories in Jon J. Muth’s Zen Shorts, a gentle, wise book that was the perfect quiet bookend to our day. (LitKid was drooping too much to make it any farther than the first two tonight.)

Stillwater the Panda enlightens his young friends through telling them stories, and I’m betting that most of the grownups who read Zen Shorts with their kids come away more affected by Stillwater’s wisdom than the little ones.

Lately, I’ve kept this one out so I walk by and see it every day;  just seeing the beautiful cover illustration of Stillwater – balancing (of course) on a rooftop, parasol in hand, beneath that beautiful cherry tree in full bloom – tends to conjure up a sense of calm.

And of course, ‘calm’ is the gift you expect from a bear named Stillwater.


Postscript: My fuzzy photograph of Zen Shorts doesn’t do it justice; if you can’t get your hands on a copy right away, be sure to look up professional shots of the book so you can fully appreciate Muth’s illustrations.

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November 2012
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