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June 11, 2024

4 Books to Keep the Tweens Entertained

by MK French

Have your kids complained of being bored, yet? Not only is it important to keep up their reading skills during the summer, books are a great way to keep them entertained. Whether they are looking for an adventure, love robots, or are into graphic novels, there are plenty of new books to choose from this month including these 4 stories.

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Jerry, Let Me See the Moon by Jeffrey Ebbeler

book cover of children's novel Jerry Let Me See the Moon by Jeffrey Ebbeler
May 2024; Holiday House; 978-0823453092
ebook, print (304 pages); adventure

Jerry and his scientist father recently moved to a new town. His father doesn't explain why they moved there or why his family had traveled all over the world. But he sees his new best friend Pearl turn into were-squirrel, and soon realizes that this town is a haven for were-creatures. When criminal mischief begins, Jerry looks into a conspiracy threatening his new hometown.

The recommended age for this book is between 8 and 12, likely because there are black and white drawings throughout the pages to enhance the story. I enjoyed seeing the characters and the comedic way some were posed, which offset the seriousness. Kids constantly moving around can sympathize with Jerry, and adults reading this with their kids will enjoy touches like L. Cheney Middle School (Lon Cheney anyone?) or the neighbors' last name LaRue (similar to loup garou) which gives a little clue to the content before Jerry catches on. When he does, he takes it pretty well and meets all the other were-creatures in town and has ideas to help them get along better when their shifting goes wrong and then when a camera crew arrives.

Jerry is a resourceful and friendly child, one that middle-grade readers will enjoy getting to know. He's fun and willing to do the right thing, which includes helping all of the were-creatures in town and solving the problems that the adults aren't able to take care of as they try to keep the camera crew busy. This is a great and engaging read, with an ending that makes me hope it's the start of a series.

The (Mostly) True Story of Cleopatra's Needle by Dan Gutman

book cover of middle grades adventure novel The (Mostly) True Story of Cleopatra's Needle by Dan Gutman
June 2024; Holiday House; 978-0823454846
ebook, print (224 pages); adventure

Cleopatra's Needle is a known landmark in New York City, and five children have observed it throughout its history. Through them, we see how an impossible task actually succeeded.

This is a middle grade book, using aspects of history to tell an adventure story for ages 8 to 12. Each of the five children is from a different time period, starting with the slave boy Zosar who assisted with the needle being carved, through Rebecca in 1880 New York City watching it get placed in Central Park. The introduction is a modern boy disinterested in history or Cleopatra's Needle, setting up the frame of the historical stories.

The fictional aspect here is in the sense that the children would have been able to keep a diary. Through the diary, we learn how long it took to carve out the obelisk's shape and how it was done. We also see how daily life went for the children during these time periods, and it's very different even in the same time period based on station and job. They have different perspectives on the needle, its meaning, and really make their part of the world come alive for the reader. Our framing narrator gets more eager to hear the story, and middle grade readers will feel the same.

Zosar had to carve out the obelisk while Lateef did drawings that became the hieroglyphs. This section has drawings in it that show the images as well as how the obelisk was raised to a standing position. It remained in Cairo for over 1500 years before being taken away, which is outlined in Panya's portion of the book in 1879. There was much discontent at that action, but it was still shipped to New York. This is outlined by the stowaway Thomas, and then Rebecca saw its placement. Each section has a different character voice and provides an excellent view into the era's views not only of the needle but of its history and the relationships of the people around them. And if you're really interested in knowing which parts were factual and which parts weren't, we have a lovely author's note outlining it at the end. He's right, locals don't pay enough attention to the needle, and they really should.

The Sinister Secrets of Singe by Sean Ferrell and Graham Carter

book cover of middle grades science fiction novel The Sinister Secrets of Singe by Sean Ferrell and Graham Carter
June 2024; Pixel+Ink; 978-1645951834
ebook, print (384 pages); science fiction

Noah lives with his mother and a robot boy, building robotic devices for a city he’s not even allowed to visit. His father almost destroyed Liberty when Noah was only a baby. At eleven years old, he still hasn't seen it. When Noah discovers a hidden message in one of his father's inventions, he hopes to help him regain recognition. But Noah's father is worse than he thought, and Noah accidentally leads his father’s robot army to Liberty. To save the city, Noah will have to make a terrible choice.

Noah grew up in a house continually under construction to grow larger and larger, as he wasn't allowed to leave it. He was aware his father built robots and made "a terrible mistake" that killed him and others in Liberty, and that he and his mother repaired things for the city. Of course, this means Noah wants to learn more about his father, and thinks he can repair his father's reputation. It doesn't help that secrets were kept from him, and his uncle the Governor locks him up and condemns his mother. His father prefers robots and has no emotional connection to people in general, let alone Noah or his mother. It's a disappointment for him, and we see Noah mature over the course of the story.

The book has illustrations scattered throughout the text, adding to the middle grade charm. It's got many exciting sequences for kids, full of machines and intrigue. Noah is a brave boy, loyal to those he cares about, and clever. He's a great role model for kids to follow, and they'll enjoy the story.

Bunnybirds #1 by Natalie Linn

book cover of middle grades graphic novel Bunnybirds by Natalie Linn
June 2024; Holiday House; 978-0823457939
ebook, print (196 pages); graphic novel

Bunnybirds live in isolation and are detached from the rest of the world to practice magic and receive prophetic visions. Princess Aster's people are disappearing, and when her father becomes one of them, she's determined to rescue him no matter what. This involves a lot of travel, dangerous situations, and possibly letting go of tradition.

Bunnybirds are exactly what they sound like: adorable bunnies with birds' wings on their backs. They live in nests on an island floating in the air and have a carefree life. "If we choose to worry about the things we cannot change, we'll be miserable forever." It's a peaceful and loving community, so the princess reaches out to dragons for help. When they don't, the lone bunnybird trickster comes to her aid, and they explore the world below the floating island. Aster has a lot to learn about the wider world, but she isn't the only one.

The art is adorable and brightly colored, and we clearly see the different areas that Aster travels to, as well as the animals she encounters. They're all just a little bit off from what we're used to, just like the bunnybirds. This is a middle grade graphic novel, with an important lesson about friendship, resilience, and the importance of feeling emotions. Pretending to feel joy all the time doesn't work, and even negative emotions have their place in life. Children can absorb that message as they journey with Aster and her friends, and the tease of future danger will no doubt be answered in future graphic novels. Definitely a fun book to share with kids.

Buy Bunnybirds at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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