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How to Rock Braces and Glasses, by Meg Haston


 

The Story:

Kacey Simon rules Marquette Middle School with a sharp and vicious tongue. What? She's just being honest! Her own TV segment on the school's broadcast provides the perfect outlet for her advice and cold hard truths. Well, her particular brand of cruel honesty comes back to bite her when the tables are turned. When an eye infection forces her to wear glasses instead of her super cool violet contacts, and when a nasty fall leads to an emergency dental appointment, braces, and a lisp (gasp!), Kacey gets a taste of her own medicine and a serious social smack down. The friends that Kacey makes down at the bottom of the social ladder may turn out to mean more to her than climbing back to the top and returning to her throne.

The Scoop:

How to Rock Braces and Glasses is a hip and sassy story about the rise and fall of popularity is perfect and spot-on for tween girls. Kacey embodies your typical mean girl, queen bee, and "perfect-outfit-obsessed" pre-teen. This story presents a great message about perspective, about learning what's really important, and about discovering how ugly your own behavior can be when you see it from a different angle. Mean middle school behavior takes place, such as friends ditching friends, using social media to humiliate, making fun of one another, even saying someone has P.U.F.D.--Pretty Ugly Freak Disorder. Clothing, outfit choices, and name brands are frequently discussed and obsessed over. Divorce is alluded to, as Kacey's father has moved out and all the way across the country to California. Language is mild (scr-wed, "bite me") and kissing takes place. Kacey's trials and tribulations are often hilarious, and the positive message that resonates in her story is a valuable one.


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When Life Gives You O.J., by Erica S. Perl

 


 

The Story:

Ten-year-old animal lover Zelly Fried has wanted a dog for EVER! Her family has just moved from Brooklyn to Vermont where practically everyone has a dog--it sure would help Zelly fit in a little better if she had one too. But she just can't seem to convince her parents. That's where her eccentric grandfather Ace comes in. He has an idea that is so crazy it just might work. His plot involves a "practice dog" named O.J. that Zelly can use to show her parents how ready she is for the responsibility of owning a pet. But just when she's starting to get her hopes up, Zelly starts to have doubts about whether she has what it takes to go through with Ace's plan.

The Scoop:

When Life Gives You O.J. is a fun read that will be enjoyed by young animal lovers. Every child who has ever begged her parents for a pet will relate to Zelly's story. Zelly's grandfather's plan to convince her parents that she is responsible involves a "practice dog" made out of a plastic orange juice jug. Zelly is embarrassed to be seen pretending an orange juice jug is a pet (complete with feeding, walking, and cleaning up fake poop), and must ask herself how much social ribbing she is willing to take in order to accomplish her goal. Zelly makes a new friend who encourages her to have "chutzpah" and show the courage of her convictions. There is a lovely (but not always easy) relationship between Zelly and her grandfather Ace, who suffers a health scare during the course of the book. Two families in this story are devout Jews, who celebrate their heritage in a town where most other people are not Jewish. Ace shares all sorts of fun Yiddish sayings, and readers will enjoy the Yiddish glossary at the end of the book. There are nice lessons about responsibility, treating a bully with empathy, and cherishing your true friends.
 


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Wonder, by R. J. Palcio



 

The Story:

Ten-year-old Auggie is just a normal kid--on the inside. As for the outside, well, that is a different story. August was born with an extreme facial abnormality and was not even expected to survive. Homeschooled his whole life by his nurturing and loving family, August's life changes as he bravely enters fifth grade at a private school in Manhattan. Will his new classmates see beyond Auggie's unique exterior and discover the terrific kid inside, or will they shun him, like so many kids have before?


 


 

The Scoop:

Wonder is a true gem of a book that will appeal to teachers and parents as much as it will to its intended middle grade audience. Wholesome and very well-written, it is also an engaging and easy read for kids. This book is told from the perspective of eight different narrators, including August himself. The narrators have a certain tie to August, each with their own unique perspective. This gives the reader a chance to see how being different, and being mainstreamed into society, affects an entire family, and community. Some rise to the challenge while some do not. The author paints a very realistic picture of middle school and how cruel but also how compassionate kids of that age can be. The parents, educators, and adults in this book are very kind and supportive (with the exception of the bully's parents). In fact, the author makes a point to demonstrate that when it comes to human behavior, the apple does not fall far from the tree. The compassionate kids have like-minded parents, while the bully's parents lead a witch hunt to kick August out of school. Wonder is a thought-provoking story about judging a book by its cover, courage, empathy, and doing the right thing, even under peer pressure. It is a great choice for parents and book clubs to read together and will prompt important discussions. Teachers--this is an excellent choice for a read aloud for both older elementary school kids and middle school. There is no language. A pet passes away, but it is not described in detail, and a juvenile fist fight occurs. August and his friend urinate in a forest and that is the raciest content of the story. The format, narrated by relatable kids of different genders and ages, makes this an appealing read for both girls and boys.
 

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Bigger Than a Bread Box, by Laurel Snyder





 

The Story:

Twelve-year-old Rebecca's parents have recently separated and she has found herself suddenly uprooted and moved to another state to live with Gran while her mom "figures things out." One lonely afternoon in Gran's attic, Rebecca discovers a strange bread box. It seems to grant any wish she can possibly make, as long as it fits in a bread box. At first, this makes things a lot easier during Rebecca's transition to a new school, and while she's getting used to her parents' new status. But after a while, the bread box starts to complicate things more than she could have ever imagined, and Rebecca is forced to decide just exactly the kind of person she wants to be.

The Scoop:

Bigger Than a Bread Box is the touching story of Rebecca and her adjustment to her parents' separation. Many children in her situation have probably wished for some magic to bring their parents back together, and for a while, Rebecca thinks she has found it. She enters a new school, and the magic bread box provides her with lots of goodies like clothes and gifts to help her fit in. But Rebecca's attempts to fit in go too far when it becomes apparent that the items that appear in the bread box do not just appear out of thin air. Rather, they have come at someone else's expense. Rebecca is accused of stealing, and must now decide what to do with the spoils that the bread box has given her if they really are mis-gotten. Her efforts to make things right also give her perspective on her parents' situation, and help her to get past her anger at her mother for moving the children away from home. Over the course of the story, Rebecca's relationships with her much-younger brother and with her grandmother blossom into something special. Her parents' troubles are related in a realistic, but age-appropriate way--neither parent is completely right or completely wrong, even though the children may be looking for a black and white answer to a difficult problem.
 

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Three Times Lucky, by Sheila Turnage
 


 

The Story:

Miss Moses LoBeau is a very busy girl. She works at her adoptive parents' cafe, she searches for her "Upstream Mother," and now she finds herself putting her detective hat on to solve a murder. Life in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, population 148, is getting very interesting indeed, and Mo and her best friend Dale join forces to outsmart the bad guys and figure out whodunnit!

The Scoop:

Three Times Lucky is a gem of a book, told with clever humor and wit, and Mo LoBeau is a memorable and unique character. She is spunky, honest, resourceful, courageous, and endearing. An excellent role model, Mo is utterly unafraid to speak her mind, a fierce protector of her loved ones and a strong willed proponent of justice. Reminiscent of another time, this story takes place in the backwoods of North Carolina, with plenty of drawl and slang and charm. A main character's parent is a violent alcoholic, whose drinking problem is known to all in town, and who is abusive to his family. Tupelo Landing is a tight-knit and supportive community, that comes together when times are tough and when a neighbor needs a helping hand. Underage drinking takes place amongst older teens, and language is extremely mild--one use of the word "jack-ss." This is a murder mystery, so the death of a community member is mentioned, and main characters do find themselves in dangerous, life-threatening situations. Mo has spent her entire eleven years desperate to discover the identity of her birth mother, who she calls her "Upstream Mother." What Mo learns over the course of the story is that the Colonel, who found her as a baby and took her in, and Miss Lana, who also cares for her, are her real family. Three Times Lucky would make a great read aloud, as it is suspenseful, funny, and charming, and Mo is an extremely discussion-worthy character.








 

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