Review (Plus)

Review (Plus): ‘Simon Thorn and the Viper’s Pit’

SimonThornViperPit9781619637153_26b6cI love finding a strong male protagonist in a middle grade series! Aimee Carter has followed through on her promise with the second book in her Simon Thorn series, Simon Thorn and the Viper’s Pit. Simon Thorn is a boy who struggles with his identity, his emotions, and the sense of belonging. He has just discovered that he is an Animalgam. He has the ability to change from a person into a golden eagle, making him heir to the Bird Kingdom. Simon also discovers he has a twin brother who can shape-shift into any animal he chooses, thus making him the Beast King. Simon eventually learns that he too can transform himself into any animal in the kingdom. Can there be two Beast Kings in the same family?

Before he can deal with that, Simon discovers a postcard from his kidnapped mother, and he knows he must go to her. Simon calls upon his friends from the first book in the series, and we are reunited with Ariana, Jam, and Winter once again. Each brings a special talent with them on the adventure. We also meet new Animalgams who increase the excitement and add multiple plot twists.

Simon, along with his readers, continues to learn new personality traits he possesses. It is this ability to relate to his audience which makes reading The Viper’s Pit thoroughly entertaining. Simon doesn’t know what is going to happen, and the question of “What will happen to me when I am caught?” is always foremost in his mind– again, like the young readers of this series.

Not all questions are answered, and Simon must deal with the secret he carries into the third installment. For my part, I can’t help but tweet, “When will we get the next book, @aimee_carter?”

In the Classroom:
For those schools who do AR, order a test for the Simon Thorn series–it is a wonderful investment to encourage your students to read more than just one book. This is a series to entice young readers, offering adventure and fantasy. Simon Thorn and the Viper’s Pit is one to recommend and be guaranteed you won’t be wrong.


Simon Thorn and the Viper’s Pit by Aimee Carter (Bloomsbury USA Childrens | 9781619637153 | February 7, 2017)

Review (Plus): ‘Wanted’

Wanted_9781492635994_d73edIn 2015 Betsy Schow gave us Spelled and with it the Fairy Tale characters Rexi (the feisty, sarcastic and narcissistic daughter of Robin Hood), Dorothea, and Kato, all battling the Wicked Witch in the Land of Oz. I adored this book (see my review here), so I was elated to get my hands on Wanted, the next installment in Schow’s Storymakers series.

At the end of Spelled Dorothea is cursed, and evil is running amok. Now we discover still more menace has been unleashed. Rexi struggles to defend Sherwood Forest, but she’s losing her memory. And as if that weren’t enough, Kato is falling in love with Rexi, even though he’s already Dorothea’s boyfriend. This madness must stop! Rexi sacrifices herself knowing Dorothea will never let her friend’s story end. Will Rexi finally move up from being a sidekick and write her own destiny?

As with the last book, I thoroughly enjoyed the advice columns, recipes, and snippets of humor from other Fairy Tales at the beginning of each chapter. In Wanted, Schow has changed her narrator from Dorothea to Rexi. Can we look forward to a third installment told from Kato’s point of view? I hope so. (Fingers crossed that I am correct, but I merely review, I don’t have any say in this.) Rexi is a quick witted narrator, and when she finds herself singing a song about ‘letting it go,’ I laughed. Of course we have our protagonist singing ‘Let it Go!’ Way to go Schow on incorporating modern day lingo into her fairy tale story.

In the classroom:

Twisted (or Fractured) Fairy Tales are a great concept to teach in seventh & eighth grade English classrooms in preparation for spring testing. One of the main tasks required by state testing is the ability to draft an essay. Use this as a fun essay for students to draft and edit.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.5: With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.


Wanted by Betsy Schow (Sourcebooks Fire | 9781492635994 | February 7, 2017)

Reviews (Plus): ‘Puck’ & ‘Saving Hamlet’

puck_doubletpressIn the newest Twisted Lit Novel, Kim Askew and Amy Helmes’ retelling of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, we meet Puck, a young woman lost in the foster care system who has arrived at DreamRoads, a wilderness camp in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but her own skills of wit, manipulation and control. Puck’s time there will either set her free or enslave her until she ages out of the system. Each child may return to the world–or not–depending on their ability to conquer the challenges set out for them. Much like the Puck in Shakespeare’s play, Puck finds she must lie to and betray in order for herself to stay the queen of her own life.

Puck is a great book for a counselor to put into the hands of readers whose story is similar to Puck’s. Anyone who has felt left out or abandoned will enjoy this story.

savinghamlet_9781484752746_2ef7c

As Saving Hamlet begins, our protagonist, Emma, has just chopped off her hair to start her sophomore year fresh–and in the hope of catching the eye of the senior who’s directing the fall production of Hamlet. Emma has little experience, and she is shocked when she discovers that her predecessor has moved and she is in charge!

The book’s humorous scenes–the try-outs, the nightly notes, the tech crew antics–are only enhanced when Molly Booth brings time travel into the story. When Emma falls through a trap door, she is transported from present day rehearsal to the original production of Hamlet. She quickly adapts and eventually takes her new-found knowledge back to the present to help her peers produce an amazing show.

In all my years of theater teaching I don’t think I have found a book I would like to get into every star-struck teen I taught as much as Saving Hamlet. It’s a theater student must read–perfect for stage managers, high school stars, the tech people in black, and the senior who wants to run the show.  I love, love this unique and witty retelling of Shakespeare’s classic play!


Puck by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes (Doublet Press | 9780998161303 | November 15, 2016)

Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth (Disney-Hyperion | 9781484752746 | November 1, 2016)

Review (Plus): The Lost Property Office

thelostpropertyoffice_9781481467094_9480aBookshelf Blurb: In the English world of lost properties, a Section 13 should never happen–especially in the form of a 13-year-old boy who is missing his father. A bit of Watson & Holmes, magic and mystery explode in this debut novel by a former US Air Force Stealth Bomber Pilot.

America’s Review:

When I read the author bio on this book I was intrigued. James R. Hannibal, author of The Lost Property Office, was a US Air Force stealth bomber pilot and Predator mission commander. Given this impressive vitae in the form of a middle grade read, I had to peruse what mystery and mayhem would be found. In less than 24 hours I had devoured over 300 pages–and with a few left, I stayed up even later to finish!

Our main character, Jack Buckles, is left in charge of his annoying and somewhat bratty little sister Sadie, while his mother goes to find his MIA father. Mr. Buckles Senior is a salesmen who did not come home from his last job forcing his mother to leave the United States in search of her husband in England. Sadie, bored with her tablet within minutes of her mother’s departure, forces Jack to leave the safety of their hotel room, and here begins the twist of the book.

The use of modern day devices and speech will help the young readers when they are suddenly immersed in historical London. Hannibal links the past to the present with the skills soon discovered in the Buckle men as Jack must determine who is father is and the man he wants to become. Sadie leads them to the Lost Property Office where they must complete forms, but alas these are not ordinary forms. The Ministry created the Lost Property Office to help find what was lost and also to keep things hidden–including people.

In the classroom:

Jack is a seer of things beyond the obvious; he can hear, see and sense the shadows of our past giving him the opportunity to solve mysteries of long-ago; however, crimes cannot be solved without a partner, so much like Holmes & Watson, Jack stumbles on a peer who can help him interpret his senses. Find a peer for this assignment, as group work makes it more complicated to agree on visions–as Jack soon discovers!

In the social studies classroom it is fun to challenge your students to create a what-if scenario. This would be a three-part essay. One: If they could go back in time, what time period would they chose and why? Two:  Research the event and historical aspects of this time period. Three: Create a different ending to the story giving specific examples of who might have made a difference decision to change the fate of the event.

Using CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2 for grades 6-8: Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.


The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers | 9781481467094 | November 8, 2016)

Review (Plus): Charlie Pie Chart and the Case of the Missing Hat

Bookshelf Blurb: A mystery to solve and shapes to be taught while reading the story. Included activities reinforce the teaching with hands on activities at the end of the book.

charliepiechart_missinghat9780062370563_51768America’s Review: Eric Comstock and Marilyn Sadler have teamed up again for another mystery-solving adventure with Charlie Pie Chart and his sleuthing dog, Watson. It is the day of the school’s musical theater production of The Princess and the Frog when Margot, the Princess, discovers her hat has disappeared! It has been taken.

In this 2nd Charlie Pie Chart mystery, Charlie Pie Chart and the Case of the Missing Hat, new elements of math are being taught. Charlie must discern where the hat is based on clues; he also must detect what shape he is trying to find among the many other shapes found throughout the school.

As in the first book, multiple skills are being taught as well as the key concept of the book. They integrate prior knowledge (colors, numbers, letters) into the mystery while also adding a new skill. The vibrant colors used in the illustrations help the reader’s interest stay piqued as they too have to search the pictures for details to help Charlie solve the mystery.

In the Classroom: Sadler and Comstock provide lesson plan activities at the end of their books. This is nice added value for parents or teachers because you don’t have to think of what to do or go search for a project. (You will need to send home a letter–or add this to your weekly newsletter–asking parents to send in empty paper towel rolls and toilet paper rolls. These will be used for your activity after you read the book.)

One of the Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten students is for them to correctly name shapes regardless of their orientations or overall size (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.G.A.2.) This book teaches shapes throughout the book giving examples you can find in your own classroom. As you read, pause and have your students find the shapes Charlie identifies as he is searching for the missing hat. If time allows, create a rocket ship for each child to take home using the directions at the end of the story. And if time doesn’t allow, send home instructions for your students to make a rocket ship or princess hat at home with their parents explaining what you taught in class and how parents can reinforce the learning in the home.


Charlie Pie Chart and the Case of the Missing Hat by Marilyn Sadler & Eric Comstock (HarperCollins | 9780062370563 | October 4, 2016)