Masterminds

The town of Serenity is a lot like Mary Poppins–“practically perfect in every way.” There’s no crime, no poverty, no conflict of any kind. Every backyard has a pool, and no one really wants for anything. Sure, it’s kind of boring sometimes, but that’s to be expected in a town of only thirty kids. Serenity is almost completely closed off from the rest of the world, and most of the residents like it that way.

Most of them.

One day, Eli Frieden and his best friend Randy decide to do a little exploring outside of city limits. They don’t make it far before Eli is doubled over with some weird illness and rushed back to town. When Eli wakes up, he learns that Randy is leaving Serenity to live with his grandparents. Eli doesn’t really know what’s going on, but he’s sure that Randy isn’t telling him everything…and he’s right.

Eli begins to do a little digging, and he discovers that Randy wasn’t sent to live with his grandparents. But if that’s true, where did his best friend go? Why the big secret? What exactly is happening in this small, seemingly perfect town?

Eli enlists the help of a few friends in his quest for answers, and they begin to uncover the horrible truth about their town. Nothing is what it seems in Serenity, not even their own families. What does all this mean for Eli and friends? And what is the town’s strange connection to some of the most vicious criminals in the country?

Can a bunch of kids find out what’s going on, escape the lies surrounding them, and find help in the world outside of Serenity? Discover the truth for yourself when you read Masterminds by Gordon Korman!

Sky Jumpers

Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman was a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Hope Toriella isn’t like most people in White Rock. Her town, one of the few remaining after the green bombs of World War III, doesn’t have most of the luxuries enjoyed by its predecessors, so everyone does their part to invent the tools they need to survive and thrive. Everyone except Hope, it seems.

Despite her best efforts, Hope is simply no good at inventing. Her inventions tend to end in disaster, and she sees herself as something of an embarrassment. Hope finds some measure of solace and freedom in sky jumping, something she’s really good at…and something she’s not exactly supposed to do.

Whenever she can, Hope sneaks off to sky jump into the deadly Bomb’s Breath, residue left over from the war. Few other people will even go near this dangerous barrier, but Hope enjoys the thrill of doing something so forbidden. Little does she know that she’ll soon have to use her sky jumping abilities–and fearlessness–to save the town that often makes her feel so alone.

When bandits take over the town and attempt to steal rare and valuable medicines, Hope and her friends escape in an attempt to find help. They must travel through the treacherous Bomb’s Breath, endure a brutal blizzard, and survive long enough to summon the guard back to White Rock.

But will that be enough to fight off the bandits holding the town hostage? What more will Hope have to do to ensure the safety of her town and everyone she loves? And will Hope realize that she’s more than just a failed inventor?

When push comes to shove, Hope’s tendency to take risks and “leap before she looks” might just be White Rock’s ultimate salvation.

Doug Unplugged

Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award

Doug is a robot. Every day, his parents plug him up, and he downloads information about all sorts of things. On this particular day, Doug is learning all about the city. But when Doug sees a real-life pigeon, he begins to wonder if there’s even more to learn out there in the real world.

So…Doug unplugs!

He experiences what happens when he flies into a flock of pigeons, when he walks down a crowded sidewalk or rides the subway, and so many other things. Doug also encounters something that wasn’t included in his daily downloads. He makes a friend and learns, for the very first time, how to play.

Join Doug as he ventures out into the city, gains real-life understanding of the world around him, and learns what it means to be a friend and a good robot son.

I think Doug Unplugged is an excellent book for showing children how important it truly is to UNPLUG! Sometimes, they need to put away the phones, tablets, gaming devices, or whatever else is streaming information/entertainment to them. They need to go out and experience the real world! (Of course, this is a message many adults could stand to learn as well.)

I’ve already read this book to several of my classes, and, while they may not have grasped just how important it is to unplug sometimes, they were enchanted by Doug (who looks like a small C3PO), and they wanted to hear about more of his adventures. Definitely a hit as a read-aloud!

A Hero for WondLa

Warning:  Read The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi before reading this post.  That is all.

A Hero for WondLa has elements of fairy tales, science fiction, fantasy, and dystopian fiction.  This book in particular seems to be a brilliant hybrid of Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, The Hunger Games, Alice in Wonderland, and Avatar.  The main character is a strong female who rises above her circumstances and uses her wits and, more importantly, her compassion to save herself and those she cares about.  But will it be enough to save an entire planet?  Let’s find out…

Eva Nine, having traversed the treacherous wilderness of Orbona and experienced the loss of her dear Muthr, is on the verge of yet another adventure. She’s being taken to New Attica, a human city, where Eva is sure she’ll find the sense of home that she’s always longed for.  Her trusted alien companion, Rovender Kitt, accompanies her, and he immediately senses that something about this journey is a little “off.”  But Eva is too excited about meeting other humans, so she ignores his warnings and heads to New Attica to become part of this seemingly utopian society.  But all is not as it seems in New Attica.  Eva feels no sense of belonging in this strange city (which is a lot like the Capitol in The Hunger Games), and she soon learns that the city’s leader, Cadmus Pryde, has iron control of the city and all of its citizens…and he wants to control Eva as well.

With the help of some old and new friends–and one relative she never knew existed–Eva Nine escapes this city and its mysterious leader.  While she’s leaving New Attica, though, Eva learns of a plot to take over the whole of Orbona (the planet we know as Earth).  Cadmus Pryde wants to expand his rule and destroy all traces of alien life on the planet.  Eva can’t let that happen.  But what can one thirteen-year-old girl possibly do to prevent war?

As it turns out, quite a bit.  Eva’s ability to commune with the creatures around her–and her tendency to see the best in everyone–might just be what the world needs to combat the terror that is coming.  For she has something that her enemies do not.  Eva Nine is pure of heart, and that may be the best “weapon” she can use to save the wild, beautiful planet she loves from certain destruction.  Will it be easy?  No.  Will lives be lost or forever changed?  Absolutely.  Will it be worth all of the sacrifices in the end?  We’ll just have to wait and see…

I’ll admit that, like The Search for WondLa, it took me a little while to get into this book.  Once I did, though, I found A Hero for WondLa to be a delightful book, and I’m hoping I can use it to get more of my female students interested in science fiction.  The main character is awesome, and I truly enjoyed seeing how she grew and matured as the story progressed.  I know she’ll be even stronger in the third book.

If you’d like to learn more about this wonderful series, I strongly urge you to visit http://wondla.com/home/.  This is a phenomenal website and even includes an interactive component (WondLa-vision).

Torn

Warning!  Torn is the fourth book in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s The Missing series.  To have any hope of understanding this book, you need to read the first three:  Found, Sent, and Sabotaged

In this series, Haddix combines elements of historical fiction and time travel.  In essence, the series revolves around the missing children from history and the struggle to return them to their places and “fix time.”  We were introduced to this story line in Found; in Sent, we traveled to England in the time of Richard III; in Sabotaged, we journeyed to the lost Jamestown colony with Virginia Dare; and in Torn, we make our way to the icy waters around northern Canada with the notable explorer Henry Hudson.

Like the previous books, Jonah and Katherine are trying to fix time and get back home.  This time, Jonah must pretend to be John Hudson, Henry’s son, and Katherine has to become invisible.  After all, they’re aboard a ship filled with less-than-pleasant sailors, and a girl on the ship would be considered odd, to say the least.  As Jonah and Katherine struggle to make sense of things in 1611, they’re also trying to figure out why and how time is being manipulated in the first place.  Can they fix things in this time, rescue their friends stuck in 1600, and return home without making a total mess of things?  I’ll leave that for you to figure out when you read Torn by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

If you like mysteries, time travel, and historical fiction, you might want to give The Missing series a try.  For more information on the series and author Margaret Peterson Haddix, visit http://www.haddixbooks.com/home.html.

Sabotaged

If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, Found and Sent, proceed at your own risk!  You need to read the first two books to understand what is going on in this one.

In Sabotaged, Jonah and his sister, Katherine, are once again trying to fix time.  This go-round, they’re attempting to help Andrea, one of the missing children from history, get back to her original time to fix whatever needs fixing.  And who is Andrea, you ask?  She’s really Virginia Dare, presumably the first child born in the Americas to English parents in the “lost colony” at Roanoke Island.

Jonah, Katherine, Andrea/Virginia, and a dog named Dare begin their journey back in time with the help of their guide, JB.  Almost immediately, however, things begin to go wrong.  Their only source of communication with JB disappears, they seem to land in the wrong place and time, and things are just not going the way they’re supposed to.  What has happened?  How can they get back to the 21st century?  What are they supposed to do?

As events unfold, it becomes clearer and clearer that JB may not be the one “guiding” Jonah, Katherine, and Andrea/Virginia.  There is a more sinister plot afoot, a plot that could impact the flow of history.  Who has sabotaged this mission?  Does JB know anything about it?  If not, how can Jonah and the gang possibly get out of this predicament?  Read Sabotaged by Margaret Peterson Haddix to find out.

The author’s note at the end of the book shed a lot of light on the subject matter of Virgiana Dare and the Roanoke colony.  (I probably should have read this first.)  Haddix really did her research on Virginia Dare, the Roanoke colony, and early settlements in North America.

The fourth book in this series, Torn, is already out, and it is on my “to-read” list (which is about two miles long at this point).  I hope to read it soon.

For more information on The Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix, visit http://www.haddixbooks.com/home.html.

Sent

If you haven’t read Found, the first book in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s The Missing series, skip this post.  This is one series where you must read the first book to understand the second (and so forth).  Proceed at your own risk!

Sent is the second book in The Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix.  The entire concept of time travel mixed with famous missing children throughout history is an interesting one, and I think Found did an awesome job of leading readers into this series.

In Sent, Jonah, Katherine, Chip, and Alex are sent back to fifteenth century England.  Why, you ask?  Well, as it turns out, Chip and Alex are really Edward V, future king of England, and his brother, Prince Richard.  The two boys were stolen from this time just before their uncle, Richard III, ascended to the throne.  Why did their uncle become king instead of Edward?  Why does no one know what really happened to Edward/Chip and Richard/Alex?  It’s up to Jonah and crew to find out and make things right before it’s too late.  Can they do it without screwing up history?  I’ll leave that for you to discover.

I don’t really know what more I can say about this book without giving everything away, so I’ll keep this post short.  I will say that I spent a lot of my time reading this book in a state of confusion.  Keeping track of Edward/Chip and Richard/Alex was mind-numbing, and I’m sure I’ll experience the same thing throughout the rest of the series.

For more information on The Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix, visit http://www.haddixbooks.com/home.html.