See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles

See you at Harry's

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Series?  No

Audience Age:  12-16

Rating (1-5):  3

The story in no more than five sentences:

Middle school for Fern is off to a bad start.   Her family owns a restaurant and her dad has created a commercial that features every member of the family shouting “See You At Harry’s!”  Her older brother Holden, mercilessly teased at school for being gay, seems to be withdrawing from the family and towards his much older boyfriend.  The one bright spot is that she is growing closer to her cute friend Rand and he has a way of making everything seem alright.  When a tragic event occurs, the bonds within Fern’s family are tested to their utmost limits.

 The best part about the book in 1 sentence:

­­­­­­­­­­The best part of this book is the realistic and open portrayal of Holden’s sexuality in High School.

The worst part of the book in 1 sentence:

The worst part of this book is the cover that does not capture the inner tension within the book.

1 interesting note about the author:

Jo Knowles’s parents actually owned a restaurant in New Hampshire where she grew up.  Find out more at


The Capture by Kathryn Lasky

thecaptureThe Plot:  Soren is a barn owlet born in the forest of Tyoto.  Living with his family in the hollow of a fir tree, he has many things to look forward to.  He has just had his “first fur “ceremony, in which he eats his first meal with fur in it, and it will soon be time for his “first bones,” in which he will be expected to regurgitate pellets, just like a healthy adult owl would.   After that he will begin to learn how to fly!

But there are also problems in Soren’s life.  His older brother Kludd is a bully and at times seems to possess an even darker side that goes beyond that.  Soren worries about Kludd’s influence on their younger sister Eglantine.  There are rumors as well of a egg snatchings.  Someone or something has been raiding owl nests and stealing the eggs.  Such a things has never been heard of in the forests of Tyoto before.

 Soren’s life abruptly changes when he falls (or was he pushed by Kludd?) out of the nest one evening.  He is soon snatched up and carried aloft by a powerful owl who takes him to a stony place with deep, narrow canyons.  Hundreds of other young owls are there as well, all of them having been kidnapped from their homes.  He discovers out that this is “St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls.”   During the first full moon, the owlets are marched together outside.     Soren makes friends with an elf owl named Gylfie and together they discover that the Academy is trying to “moon blink” them, a process in which an owl basks in the moonlight and is made crazy.  The two owls discover other areas of St. Aegolius as well and realize that the Academy has a sinister purpose.  Soren and Gylfie must escape from this place and make it back to their homes to warn the other owls.

Personal Reaction:  I have been wanting to read some of The Guardians of Ga’hoole series for some time and I was not disappointed.  Lasky keeps the story moving along at a brisk pace while managing to create a convincing fantasy world.  I appreciated that Lasky presents a great deal of factual information about owls, including some of the not so appealing topics of regurgitation and excretion.  These bathroom subjects are approached in such a way that the young readers will understand that these are important part of the owl’s lives and not just put in the book for comedic material.

Themes:  desire for power, orphans, bullies, kidnaping, creating new family,  enslavement,  searching for home.

The Squish Series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm continue the amusing tone set in their Babymouse graphic novels with their new series Squish.  Last week I read the first two installments to my 5 year old daughter.

Plot: Squish is a young amoeba who lives in a pond floating with other microorganisms including paramecium and planaria.  But life in the pond is not easy and Squish is plagued with troubles familiar to any human child in elementary school.  In the first book, Squish must face down the school bully Lynnwood, also an amoeba, who wants to eat his obnoxiously ebullient friend Peggy, a paramecium.  In the second book, Squish is starting a new school year and finds that he has made it into the cool crowd with the Algae, the “coolest microorganisms in the pond.”  But Squish soon finds out that being with the popular kids comes with a price that is too high for him to pay.

Personal Reaction: These are fun, clever reads.  I love the artifice of using the microscopic world of a pond as an allegory for the trials of elementary school.  Lynnwood is the scariest amoeba in school because he readily, and quite literally, eats and digests other microorganisms.  The Algae are the coolest kids  because they produce oxygen.  As an adult, I found it entertaining to reconsider the life of an amoeba, something that I had not thought about since 9th grade biology class.  Kids will enjoy the comic book spoof humor and the problems that relate to this age group.

Themes: following your conscience, bullying, standing up for your friends, father-son relationship,  the effects of the inner life of the mind on the outer world, fitting in with social groups, the shifting nature of friendships under pressure.

Squish: Super Amoeba 94 pages 2011 Random House; Squish: Brave New Pond 90 pages, 2011 Random House.

The Ravenmaster’s Secret by Elvira Woodruff

ImageSynopsis:  The year is 1735 and the place is the Tower of London.  Forrest Harper is an 11 year old boy who is the son of the prison’s Ravenmaster.  His days are spent tending to the birds, playing with his rat catching friend Ned, and providing meals to some of the prisoners.  Forrest longs for adventure and receives some when a group of Scottish prisoners are sent to the tower.  Amongst them is a girl named Maddy who soon fills Forrest’s ear up with tales of her home in Scotland.

As the day of Maddie’s trial and execution approaches, Forest and Ned are tempted to become part of a plot to help her escape.  But there is so much at stake.  If they are caught, it would surely mean death for them and great shame for Forrest’s family.  What will they do?

Personal Reaction:  Because I enjoy reading about history and other cultures, this was a quick and easy read for me.  Woodruff packs this book with bullies, thugs, and shady people.  She also does such an excellent job of building characters and moving the plot along that I truly wanted for Forrest, Ned and Maddie to prevail.  After I hit the midway point of this book, I just burned through the rest. I had goosebumps as I read the final pages.  I’m not sure that I can give a book higher praise than that.

Themes include father-son relationships, testing of friendships, freedom vs. captivity, bullying,  the limits of patriotism, the morality of public executions, child labor, and child cruelty.

225 pages; published 2003

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer

You may not think that a book about Scrabble would keep you turning the pages, but Meg Wolitzer’s The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman kept me engaged.

Duncan and his mother have just moved across the country to Drilling Falls, Pennsylvania to live with Aunt Djuna.  Just as he is settling into his new school,  Duncan discovers that he has a secret power: his left hand is able to read the words and pictures on a page just by moving his fingers across them.  When school bully and hardcore Scrabble player Ken Colter discovers this ability, he convinces Duncan that he could be amazing at Scrabble.  His magic fingertips would allow him to choose whatever word tiles he wanted from the tile bag.  Ken and Duncan are soon on their way to the national Scrabble tournament in Yakaminee, Florida.  But Duncan is unsure whether he wants to go, and if he does, will he be able to put up with Ken’s bullying and use his super power to cheat their way to the finals?

This book has other interesting characters that all meet at the Scrabble tournament.  Wolitzer deftly juggles these different storylines while managing to keep the plot moving forward.  I especially liked how the author’s obvious love of words and the game of Scrabble came through.  Readers will appreciate some of the clever wordplays.  Who knew, for instance, that MARASCHINO is an anagram of HARMONICAS?

Themes explored in this book include bullying, missing fathers, discovering your talents, and first crushes.  I definitely recommend this book to readers ages 10 and above.

294 pages.  Published 2011.

The Other Felix by Keir Graff

  Do you ever have nightmares?  Felix has nightmares every night.  They are always the same.  He is in a wooded area strewn with boulders and stone steps.   At some point a huge monster shows up and gives chase to him through the dark forest.

Things aren’t necessarily better in the real world either.  He often hears his parents arguing over the status of his father’s job.  The project that his dad is working on isn’t going well and he may lose his job and they would have to move to another city.

There’s also a new boy in school named Chase.  He is big and gruff and it isn’t long before Felix watches him steal a class calculator.  That same calculator later shows up in Felix’s backpack and the teacher understandably blames Felix for the theft.

With all of this stress, his dreams at night are only getting weirder.  In the dreamland of the monsters, he meets his doppelganger.  This “Other Felix,” as he calls him, looks just like him, except he is dirtier, has survival skills and knows how to scare off the monsters.  Because of this, he enjoys the Other Felix’s company and learns a lot from him.

But the relationship between the two Felixes begins to shift over time.  As the real Felix begins to spend more time in the dreamland, the Other Felix loses his power over the monsters.  He also grows increasingly surly as he hears more about the real Felix’s life at home with his family.  The Other Felix knows that he will never enjoy such comforts and only have a life spent in the woods with the monsters.

Can Felix reconcile his real world and dreamland problems?  Can he find a way to deal with the bully at school?

I enjoyed this book because it tackles typical Juvenile Fiction themes without being sentimental or maudlin.  I was mostly captured by the relationships between the two Felixes and how they struggled to defeat the dreamland monsters.

I recommend for ages 8-10.

Shredderman: Secret Identity by Wendelin Van Draanen

   Nolan is in 5th grade now and sick of Bubba Bixby picking on everyone in the school.  Bubba lies, steals, cheats and has a pejorative name for all of his classmates.  Nolan is half the size of Bubba, so a physical confrontation is out of the question.  How can he stop Bubba’s bullying without getting pounded into the ground?

His answer comes when his hippie teacher Mr. Greene assigns them a project of creating a newspaper page on a topic affecting the community.  Nolan realizes that there is no greater issue to address than Bubba’s bullying.  He also decides that he’ll take the project one step forward by creating a website rather than just a newspaper.  Mr. Green has once written on his homework, “You shred, man!”  He decided that this was seriously high praise from a cool guy like Mr. Green.  In that vein, Nolan decides to adapt the appellation “Shredderman” for his online alter ego.

Nolan builds the website and begins posting pictures and videos of Bubba’s bullying.  All goes well until Nolan advertises his website a little too effectively.  Suddenly everyone is looking at his site and wondering who this Shredderman is.  He even receives an e-mail from Bubba: “I know who you are…You’re gonna wish that you were never born!”  Has Nolan suddenly taken his school project too far?

Fans of such titles as as Oggie Cooder by Sarah Weeks and Hank Zipzer by Harry Winkler will appreciate the Shredderman series.  Secret Identity is also a great pick for readers that want to read about turning the tables on a bully.  Recommended ages 9+  138 pages

Because of Anya by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Ten year old Anya has a secret that she wants to keep: she’s wearing a wig.  Her real hair has begun to fall out due to an auto immune disease known as Alopecia Areata.  School is hard enough, but when you don’t have hair, the thought of facing your peers is almost unbearable.  Anya struggles to maintain her composure in the face of various obstacles: the constant itching of her scalp, gym class, and the stares of the class bully Steph Englewood.  Margaret Peterson Haddix does an excellent job presenting how children feel as outsiders.  I enjoyed reading this sometimes painful glimpse into the world of people that don’t fit in.  Ages 8-11