The Girl from Felony Bay

Abbey Force has had a rough time of it lately. Her father is in a coma and can’t defend himself against some fairly awful accusations. Her beautiful home, Reward Plantation in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, had to be sold to pay off her dad’s supposed debts. And Abbey had to move in with her horrible Uncle Charlie and his wife, Ruth.

But it’s not all bad…

Abbey soon meets the daughter of Reward Plantation’s new owner. Bee Force (no relation) is Abbey’s age, and their families have a connection that goes back to before the Civil War. It appears that Abbey’s ancestors kept Bee’s ancestors as slaves, and Bee’s family took on Force as their last name after the war was over. Even though their family stories could have driven a wedge between these two girls, instead it brings them closer together, and they soon become as close as sisters…and they’ll need that closeness to weather the storm that’s headed their way.

Abbey is determined to prove to everyone that her father is innocent, and Bee wants to help her new friend. It quickly becomes clear that the two girls are on to something, but what? Why are there “No trespassing” signs and big holes around Felony Bay? Why was this parcel of land sold separately from Reward Plantation? Why is Uncle Charlie so smug all of a sudden, and what does the Deputy Sheriff have to do with his new attitude? What’s the connection with Abbey’s dad and the accusations made against him? Can two twelve-year-old girls really prove that something sinister is going on?

Abbey and Bee are working to solve this mystery, and their investigation takes them all over Charleston and Reward Plantation. Danger abounds, and the girls eventually uncover a plot that dates back over a century. Can they reveal the truth before it’s too late? Or will all of their sleuthing make them the next target of whoever is trying to frame Abbey’s dad?

Join Abbey and Bee Force in their quest for the truth when you read The Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson, a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

 

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City of Orphans

It’s 1893, and New York City is teeming with people–immigrants, crooks, cops, and, most of all, kids. Kids just trying to survive, trying to make a few cents to help their families. One of these kids is Maks Geless. Maks is a newsie. (He sells newspapers on street corners.)

One night, Maks runs into some trouble on his way home from work. Trouble by the name of Bruno and the Plug Ugly Gang. Maks is sure he’s dead meat…until a dirty, homeless girl with a big stick saves him. This girl, Willa, has lived in the streets for months, and Maks figures the least he can do is give her a place to stay for coming to his rescue. So Maks takes Willa home to stay with his family.

Maks’ family, immigrants from Denmark, lives in a tenement, nearly ten people crammed into one small apartment, but it’s home, and they’re all together…until Maks’ older sister Emma is arrested! Maks is sure that Emma must be innocent. There’s simply no way she could have stolen a watch from someone at the new, fancy Waldorf hotel where she works. Maks’ parents are unfamiliar with the way things really work in America, so it’s up to Maks–and his new friend Willa–to figure out just what happened with Emma and the case of the stolen watch.

All the while, Maks and Willa have to watch out for the scary Bruno and this gang, just waiting to terrorize them and take their meager earnings. Can these two kids save their own necks while trying to get Maks’ sister out of jail? And is anyone willing to help two poor kids–who have no money–without expecting something in return? What will these two junior detectives discover in their quest for the truth? The answers will shock even them and will have the power to turn their worlds upside down. Learn how two kids navigate the perilous waters of turn-of-the-century New York when you read City of Orphans by Avi!

This book is nominated for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s and Junior Book Awards.

Three Times Lucky

Eleven years ago, Moses “Mo” LoBeau washed ashore in Tupelo’s Landing, North Carolina. This child, who was washed away from her Upstream Mother in a hurricane, was rescued by the memory-impaired, cantankerous Colonel and Miss Lana, and the three of them made a life for themselves in this small coastal town.

Now, eleven years later, Mo is a rising sixth grader who works part-time in the restaurant run by the Colonel and Miss Lana. (Her specialty seems to be peanut butter on Wonder Bread.) She spends most of her spare time researching who and where her Upstream Mother might be, and she enjoys hanging out with her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III. (The “III” is for the iconic #3 car of his namesake.)

This summer, however, things are being stirred up in Tupelo’s Landing, and Mo takes it upon herself to figure out what’s going on. One of the restaurant’s customers has been killed, a cop is asking questions about Mo’s beloved Colonel, and strange things are afoot in the town Mo calls home. What else is a precocious girl to do? Mo and Dale open up their own detective agency–Desperado Detectives–and begin investigating the crime.

What these junior detectives find, though, may just change everything they know about the people they’re closest to. What secrets are hiding in Tupelo’s Landing? And how can Mo and Dale discover the truth when the police can’t?

As Mo and Dale come closer and closer to solving the biggest mystery to hit Tupelo’s Landing since Mo herself washed ashore, they’ll learn just what family and friendship really mean. When waters get rough, it becomes clear who’ll be there for them, and even Mo might be surprised by who has her back. Join Mo LoBeau on her journey to the truth when you read Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, a nominee for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award!

Who Could That Be at This Hour?

I recently read Lemony Snicket’s latest book,Who Could That Be at This Hour?, the first volume in the new All the Wrong Questions series.  The writing is kind of standard Lemony Snicket fare–it feels like the author is talking directly to the reader, and there’s quite a bit of sarcasm and understated humor involved. The main character’s voice–in this case, Lemony Snicket himself–is very distinctive and engaging.  The story itself also captivates the reader.  At its core, it is a mystery, but I must admit that nothing is really solved in this book.  In fact, so much remains hidden at the end, that the reader absolutely MUST read the next book, or he/she will remain in a state of confusion for the foreseeable future.

Who Could That Be at This Hour? follows a young Lemony Snicket and his mentor, S. Theodora Markson (we don’t know what the S stands for), as they attempt to solve a mystery in a nearly abandoned town, Stain’d-by-the-Sea (which is not “by the sea”).  It is unclear just what Lemony is supposed to learn from Ms. Markson, but it is abundantly clear that he knows much more–about everything–than his mentor.  He figures out pretty quickly that all is not what it seems to be when it comes to this mystery, but he can’t put his finger on what’s going on or what he can do to solve this case.  Maybe he’s asking the wrong questions…

Lemony Snicket’s own past is also a prevalent mystery in this book.  Where are his parents?  Why is he an apprentice to Theodora?  Who–or what–did he leave behind when he ventured on his current quest?  What is his end-game?

In any case, this book is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and readers will spend the entire book wondering what in the world is going on.  Who is the true owner of the object–a rather unimpressive Bombinating Beast statue–that Lemony and Theodora are trying to recover?  Who really hired them in the first place?  Well, that may be kind of complicated, and, even though some questions may be answered in this book, they’re probably the wrong ones.  Readers will have to stay tuned to learn more about Theodora, Stain’d-by-the-Sea, the Bombinating Beast, and what’s really going on with young Lemony Snicket.

Belly Up

Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs is a nominee for the 2012-2013 South Carolina Children’s Book Award and takes place at a zoo/theme park called FunJungle in central Texas.  Now, at first glance, this theme park is the ultimate vacation destination.  Really cool animals, Disney-esque merchandising, and loads of family fun.  But something isn’t quite right at this attraction, and our main character is about to find himself in his own kind of zoo…one that could endanger his very life.

Teddy Fitzroy, a kid who spent his first ten years in the Congo, basically lives at FunJungle…which isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds.  His mom works with the primates there, and his dad is a wildlife photographer.  While they’re busy with their jobs, Teddy spends his days wandering around the park…and getting up to a little trouble (like arming chimpanzees with water balloons).

When Henry the Hippo–FunJungle’s star attraction, mascot, and all-around bad-tempered animal–ends up “belly up,” Teddy is immediately suspicious.  He smells something rotten…and it’s more than a dead hippo.  Teddy begins investigating the death on his own, and he quickly discovers that more is going on at FunJungle that he ever realized.  With the help of the zoo owner’s daughter, Summer, Teddy learns that lots of people wanted Henry dead, and whoever killed Henry may now have a new target…Teddy.

Teddy’s been asking lots of questions, and he may be getting too close to the truth for comfort, so someone is doing everything they can to shut him up.  Teddy is scared, but he’s also determined to uncover the truth about what happened to Henry the Hippo…and several other animals that have died under mysterious circumstances.  He doesn’t know who he can trust, but he does know that it’s up to him to uncover the truth before anyone else–animal or human–is harmed.  Can Teddy discover who’s behind the mayhem at FunJungle, or will he be the next one to go “belly up?”  Read Belly Up by Stuart Gibbs to solve the mystery!

Belly Up is a fun, quick read for any reader who enjoys mysteries or stories involving animals.  While reading, I learned a lot of interesting facts about zoo animals that I’d never known before, and I think my students will find these facts as fascinating as I did.  I think it would be awesome to combine this book with the ever-present animal research projects that my fourth grade students do each year.  Many animals are mentioned in this book–some I’d never heard of–so it would be really cool to have students research each animal that was mentioned.  It would make the book come even more alive for young readers.

The mystery in Belly Up kept me guessing the entire way through.  Just like Teddy, I didn’t know which characters could be trusted, and the outcome of the book was a complete surprise to me.  The ending of the book, in particular, was filled with twists and turns that most readers will not see coming.  I love it when that happens.  Predictable stories tend to be boring and lose my interest fast.  That didn’t happen with Belly Up.

I’ll be recommending this book to all of my third-fifth grade students, and I think this book would be a great addition to middle school libraries as well.  If you’d like more information about this book and others by Stuart Gibbs, visit http://stuartgibbs.com/.