Book Reviews (Grade 4-6)

Sloan, Holly G. Short. Pgs. 296. Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin Random House), 2017. $16.99. Grades 4-6, 7-8.

41UXMw2XVjL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Main character: Julia Marks, 12-year-old girl, serious, matter-of-fact, always questioning

Setting: Most scenes are in the theatre

3-sentence summary: Julie is short for her age. When she is cast in the university production of the Wizard of Oz, she learns that she can be “big” in other ways. She quickly becomes friends with a dwarf (Olive), the directors (Barr and Gianni) and her neighbor costume maker (Mrs. Chang).

Writing tone: Flat, matter-of-fact, non-emotional, mostly stream of thought about life, limited dialogue

Excerpt p.80: “Parents hate the idea of kids drinking coffee, so of course I started sneaking some over a year ago. Now I love it even though in the beginning it just tasted like medicine and was probably staining my teeth. It’s not true that coffee stunts your growth. I looked this up and there is no evidence.”

Strengths: Many positive themes throughout, especially 1. Don’t judge people by their outward appearances, and 2. Don’t decide whether you like something until you’ve tried it, original plot

Weaknesses: Julia’s thinking is flat. Her personality comes across as inconsistent because it alternates between mature and immature.

Who will like this book: Short kids, theatre kids, anyone whose pet recently died, scrapbookers

Who won’t like this book: Anyone who prefers humorous books, challenged readers, boys

Genrefication: Realistic fiction

Recommendation: Have a student test read before purchasing


Ephron, Amy. Castle in the Mist. Pgs. 167. Philomel Books (Penguin Young Readers), 2017. $16.99. Grades 4-6.


Main character: Tess Barnes, 11-year-old girl, loves adventure, loves to explore

Setting: Most scenes are on the grounds of the castle she discovers in the woods

3-sentence summary: Tess and her younger brother Max have been sent to stay with their aunt in the English countryside for the summer. While exploring, Tess stumbles upon a large castle and nice boy who warns her to stay away from the Hawthorne trees. When she returns with her brother, they discover the magic and danger of the castle grounds.

Writing tone: No stream of thought, mostly dialogue and descriptive retelling of events

Excerpt p.55: “’What do I have to do to get a ticket?’ asked Max, reaching into his pocket to see if he had any coins. ‘Your money’s no good here, m’boy,’ said Barnaby. ‘It’s your wishes I want. One wish per ride.’”

Strengths: Kids get to explore without adults around, a lot of adventure and mystery packed into a short book

Weaknesses: The plot begins well, but the end is sloppy with no explanation about the Hawthorne trees or appearing/disappearing family

Who will like this book: Kids who enjoy fantasy and adventure, kids who enjoy shorter, easier books, both boys and girls

Who won’t like this book: Anyone who doesn’t like make believe or fantasy

Genrefication: Fantasy

Recommendation: Have a student test read before purchasing


Grabenstein, Chris. Welcome to Wonderland: Home Sweet Motel. Pgs. 284. Penguin Random House, 2016. $13.99. Grades 4-6.


Main character: P.T. Wilkie, 11-year-old boy, junior sleuth, story teller, idea creater

Setting: Most scenes are on the grounds of the Florida Wonderland Motel

3-sentence summary: P.T. has lived in his family’s motel his whole life. The problem is that it’s not making money and the bank is about to repossess it. P.T., and his new friend Gloria, set out to find a secret stash of diamonds that might be hidden on the motel property.

Writing tone: Humorous, mostly dialogue and descriptive retelling of events, illustrations throughout

Excerpt p.69: “’You snooze, you lose,’ said Porter, because he always says annoying things like that. Sometimes he even rhymes.”

Strengths: Main character is the best friend everyone wants; witty, adventurous, clever; the pace never slows, exciting supporting characters

Weaknesses: N/A

Who will like this book: Kids who enjoy fast-paced books packed with adventure and mystery, challenged readers, boys and girls, students who like illustrations

Who won’t like this book: Mature kids

Genrefication: Humor

Recommendation: Purchase now


Savage, Melissa. Lemons. Pgs. 305. Crown Books (Penguin Random House), 2017. $16.99. Grades 4-6.


Main character: Lemonade (Lem), 11-year-old girl, junior sleuth, witty, tough

Setting: Grandpa’s house, woods, townsfolk houses

3-sentence summary: Lem’s mother has just died and she has no choice but to move in with her grandfather. She soon meets the neighbor boy who is also a Bigfoot investigator. He lets her join his team and together they search the town and woods for evidence of the elusive creature.

Writing tone: Witty, sarcastic, but also reflective, mostly dialogue

Excerpt p.69: “Ladies and gentleman,’ Charlie announces. ‘Thank you for attending the Bigfoot Detectives first official Bigfoot screening. Is everyone ready to make history?’”

Strengths: Characters are consistent, characters grow as story develops. Characters have strong lessons to teach; accepting what you can’t change, the power of family, overcoming bullies

Weaknesses: Ending is rushed and a little sloppy (i.e. unbelievable)

Who will like this book: Kids who enjoy adventure, mystery and/or legendary creatures, kids who like books with restrained humor, both boys and girls

Who won’t like this book: Kids who prefer fantasy, dystopian, etc. genres.

Genrefication: Mystery

Recommendation: Purchase now


Rodkey, Geoff. The Tapper Twins Go Viral. Pgs. 240. Hachette Books (Little, Brown and Co.), 2017. $13.99. Grades 4-6.


Main character: Claudia Tapper, 12-year-old girl, worrier, celebrity wannabe, internet addict

Setting: Most scenes are at home, school, celebrity con, or park

3-sentence summary: Claudia has decided she wants to be a MeVid star on the internet, but it proves to be easier said than done. Then her brother posts a silly 2-second blip which goes viral. The snobby, rich girl bullies Claudia into taking a bet that she either must pass her brother’s popularity or post an embarrassing video of defeat.

Writing tone: Story told in an interview format, reminiscent of a reality show, down-to-earth, handwritten side notes are humorous

Excerpt p.69: Claudia: “I couldn’t sleep, either. ‘Cause I was DOOMED. At the rate my ‘Windmill’ Blurts had gotten me followers, if I wanted to catch up to Reese, I was going to have to write, record, and shoot videos for 1,000 songs. And by the next morning, it was more like 2,000 songs.”

Strengths: Smart advice on internet etiquette, kids respect their parents, photos and illustrations, highly relatable, teaches kids how innocent internet use can turn ugly

Weaknesses: none noted

Who will like this book: Kids who love YouTube and Snapchat, kids who like a fun, quick read

Who won’t like this book: Serious kids who want to be challenged in their reading

Genrefication: humor

Recommendation: Purchase now


Bell, Jennifer. The Uncommoners: The Crooked Sixpence. Pgs. 309. Crown (Penguin Random House), 2017. $16.99. Grades 4-6.


Main character: Ivy, 11-year-old girl, feisty, determined, adventurous

Setting: Lundinor, trade market of uncommon objects beneath London

3-sentence summary: When Ivy and her brother stumble into their grandmother’s ransacked house they realize that she’s in trouble. Before they can figure out what’s happened, they end up in a mysterious trade market of uncommon objects below London. The only way in is through an uncommon suitcase, and once inside they will need the assistance of the Uncommoners to figure why their grandmother is suddenly in peril.

Writing tone: Equal parts dialogue and description, some illustrations

Excerpt p.69: “She headed toward the first buildings, which were small and crooked, with gnarled wooden beams and sloping snow-topped roofs like houses on a Victorian Christmas card. The uncommon lighting made the place feel like a film set.”

Strengths: Innocent, good, old-fashioned story-telling; no drama or hidden agendas; simple theme of good vs. evil; similarities to Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books

Weaknesses: Plot gets a little sloppy with the addition of the “dead” Uncommoners; weakens the book slightly, but still a fun read

Who will like this book: All kids, but especially those who like fantasy and fairytales

Who won’t like this book: Kids who don’t like make believe stories

Genrefication: fantasy

Recommendation: Purchase now


Bird, Betsy. Funny Girl. Pgs. 193. Viking (Penguin Random House), 2017. $16.99. Grades 4-6.

9780451477316Format: Short stories

2-sentence summary: 29 short, funny stories about girls written by female authors. Best known authors include Raina Telgemeier, Ursula Vernon, Rita Williams-Garcia, Libba Bray.

Writing tone: Varies but all funny, mostly prose, some verse, some graphic style, some letter style

Excerpt p.69: Verse: “Today I’m shopping for a bra. I can hardly wait! I’ve been dreaming of this fancy store since the age of eight. One bra has the push-up stuff. Another, moving parts. A third bra comes with batteries to light the flashing hearts.”

Strengths: Quick read, variation in style, funny, easy

Weaknesses: Half the stories are truly amusing and the other half fall flat, most of the authors are not well-known

Who will like this book: Kids who like short stories, kids who prefer funny to serious, kids who like quick reads, challenged readers

Who won’t like this book: Serious kids who want to be challenged in their reading, boys

Genrification: Short stories

Recommendation: Have a student test read before purchasing


Oh, Ellen. Spirit Hunters. Pgs. 276. Harper Collins, 2017. $16.99. Grades 4-6, 7-8.


Main character: Harper, 11-year-old girl, protective of younger brother, annoyed about recent move, confused about memory loss

Setting: Old house her family has recently purchased in Washington, D.C.

3-sentence summary: When Harper’s family moves into an old house, her 4-year-old brother finds a new imaginary friend. Within days his personality takes a turn for the worse. Harper’s own memory loss from her previous home begins to slowly return as she realizes that something is different about her family, and only her grandmother knows how to save her brother from the evil spirit trying to inhabit him.

Writing tone: Mostly 3rd person, journal entries between chapters are 1st person; urgent, scary tone

Excerpt p.75: “She looked back at Michael but this time, instead of the flickering boy, she saw Michael’s eyes change into hollow unblinking eyes. They sent a cold rush through her body and an urgent desire to protect her brother. Who was this strange boy?”

Strengths: Kids love a creepy story and this is a step up from Mary Downing Hahn. The suspense will keep kids wanting to read more.

Weaknesses: The plot is mostly predictable. There have been many movies about spirits living in houses and trying to inhabit one of the occupants while one or more adults ignores the obvious. Most kids won’t be annoyed by this.

Who will like this book: Kids who like scary stories

Who won’t like this book: Kids who prefer humor or realistic fiction

Genrefication: Thriller

Recommendation: Purchase now if you need more scary books in your collection

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