Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel by Xavier Garza

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Garza, Xavier. Maximilian & the Mystery of the Guardian Angel. Cinco Puntos Press, 2011. $12.95, 207 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.angelfire.com/folk/artes/artists/artist/xavier.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Max meets his all-time favorite luchador the Guardian Angel and soon learns that they are connected by much more than a love of lucha libre.

Summary:

Max, his father, and his Uncle Lalo all have a love of lucha libre.  The masks, the characters, the history.  Max’s favorite luchador is the Guardian Angel.  He is thrilled when his father takes him to a match where he gets to see the Guardian Angel in person!  Imagine his surprise when, after falling on his head in the ring with the Guardian Angel, the Guardian Angel turns out to be his mother’s Uncle Rodolfo, who had disappeared years ago and that everyone thought was dead.  Uncle Rodolfo returns with Max to reconnect with the family, and the summer starts becoming like one of Max’s lucha libre movies!  Uncle Lalo’s ex-girlfriend Sonia (who happens to be a luchador herself) starts bothering Uncle Lalo and his new wife.  With Uncle Rodolfo’s help, a fundraising tag-team lunchador match is set up at the church to help settle the matter with Sonia.  Max’s summer turns out a whole lot more interesting than he ever imagined.

Evaluation:

A truly enjoyable read, Xavier Garza fills the story with humor and his obvious love of lucha libre.  The characters and plot are as over the top and unbelievable as the luchadors themselves.  However, like lucha libre, they are so fun that the reader cannot but help suspend disbelief and wholeheartedly root for the technicos.  The novel is a bilingual novel with English on one side and Spanish on the other.  Poster-like illustrations are sprinkled throughout the novel as well, calling to mind character cards or posters of wrestlers.  The culture of lucha libre is fully embraced in the novel, but even those who do not know what it is, are able to access the story.  Underlying the fun lucha libre storyline is the universal theme of the importance of family.  Uncle Rodolfo’s reconnection with his family, Lalo fighting for his new family, Max’s obvious pride in his family, and the way that they all stick together to solve a problem shines through.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: lucha libre, Mexican culture, family relationships, humor, comics

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Maximilian and the Bingo Rematch by Xavier Garza
  • Body Slammed by Ray Villareal
  • Nino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Pura Belpre Honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Meeting the Guardian Angel
  • Uncle Rodolfo and Max talking about why Uncle Rodolfo left in the first place
  • The tag team match

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How are the characters exaggerated like the luchadors?
  • How is the theme of family conveyed through the story?
  • How is lucha libre like a family?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because it was about lucha libre at the middle grade level. I am always on the look out for books that middle school students would enjoy.  I think that it would definitely appeal to middle school students who are reluctant readers.

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The Schwa Was Here by Neal Schusterman

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Shusterman, Neal.  The Schwa Was Here.  Dutton, 2004.  $15.99, 276 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.storyman.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation: Taking advantage of being invisible, Calvin Schwa and Antsy’s antics include profiting off of dares, a blind love interest, and finding Schwa’s mother who disappeared into thin air.

Summary:

Until Anthony “Antsy” Bonano met Calvin Schwa after attempting to destroy indestructible dummy Manny Bullpucky, no one noticed the Schwa.  Abandoned by his mother in the grocery store as a young child, forgotten by his brain damaged painter father, Schwa drifts through life invisible.  Antsy soon realizes that they could capitalize on this fact, and starts charging for the Schwa’s invisible services.  Until a dare at Mr. Crawley’s house goes horribly wrong and both boys are caught.  Faced with either the police or to be indentured dog walkers, the boys choose the dogs.  But soon Antsy is hired by Crawley to take around his granddaughter, and Antsy steels himself to be punished with the company of said granddaughter.  Except Lexie turns out to be fun and attractive, and both Antsy and the Schwa, who Lexie can “see” even though she is blind, start to fall for her.  This love triangle strains their friendship, and then the Schwa decides to find out the truth about what happened with his mother.  The Schwa is no longer invisible, but then he disappears all together.

Evaluation:

The story started off a little slow, but the characters were quirky and endearing from the Schwa to Mr. Crawley to Antsy to Lexie.  It was wonderful to see a blind character who did not struggle with being blind.  The structure of the novel was easy to follow.  The chapter titles were as quirky as the characters. The Schwa’s predicament seemed rather unrealistic, but the concept was intriguing.  In true teenage boy fashion, the two are able to get into some mischief using the Schwa’s abilities.  The plot also has some strange situations (walking 14 Afghans?, a mother running off with the Night Butcher?, buying a billboard on an abandoned freeway?).  However, the underlying story of friendship and self-discovery is one that everyone can relate to.  Feeling invisible is another point of entry for readers.  A fun read for those who enjoy a little of the strange and wonderous.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: friendship, romance, feeling invisible, teenage boys, humor

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Best Foot Forward by Joan Bauer
  • Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
  • Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Boston Globe – Horn Book Award for Fiction
  • ALSC Notable Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Testing the Schwa Effect
  • Getting caught at Crawley’s
  • The Night Butcher

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Is Calvin really invisible to all these people?
  • What does Antsy learn about “truth”?
  • Has the Schwa ceased to be invisible?  Or has he learned how to live invisibly happily?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this book initially for the title.  I was curious to see what the story had to do with the schwa sound.  The idea of an invisible boy was also a draw to the story.

Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool

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Vanderpool, Clare.  Navigating Early.  Delacorte Press, 2013.  $16.99, 320 pages.

Link to Author’s Website: http://www.clarevanderpool.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:
What do pi, two boys, and a search for the Great Appalachian black bear have in common?  The adventure of a lifetime.

Summary:

At 13, Jack has just lost his mother and his father has just returned from World War II.  Unable to cope with his wife’s death and his son, his father sends Jack to a military boarding in school.  There Jack is an outcast until he befriends Early Auden, the weird kid obsessed with pi, who listens to Billie Holiday in the rain, and who lives in an old custodial closet.  When both boys find themselves left at the school over the holidays, Jack agrees to go on a quest with Early to find the legendary great black bear.  After hijacking a boat from the school, they encounter pirates, volcanoes, a hundred year old woman, secret caves, and more amidst the forests of Maine.  Along the way, both boys deal with their individual losses that they may not have realized they were feeling.

Evaluation:

Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early is a wonderful story of two boys searching for a way to deal with their losses.  Although Jack seems  more mature than other 13 year old boys, he is a likeable character who is struggling to deal with the loss of his mother.  Early’s character is also different from other characters being on the autism spectrum.  His earnestness and faithfulness to the belief that his brother is alive is endearing.  The additional story of Pi was a little confusing initially.  But it was understandable how Vanderpool was using it to mirror the boys’ adventure or to bring attention to certain aspects of their experience.  The other characters and how they are related to each other and the boys also make the story more complex.  The language and the writing style of the story are also more complex.  The ending of the story is tied up very nicely, with all the characters accounted for and each boy finding the closure that he has been searching for.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction, coming of age adventure, quest, magical realism, historical fiction

Appeal Factors:  adventure, friendship, buddy quest, story within a story, mystery

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Three Times Lucky
  • Tangerne
  • The Sea of Trolls

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2014 Printz Honor Book
  • 2014  Best Fiction for Young Adults
  • 2014 Notable Children’s Books

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Early’s story about Pi
  • The boys’ run in with the pirates
  • Early’s confrontation with his dad

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Gunnar talks about how people searching for something are sometimes running away from something.  What are Early and Jack running away from?
  • The author has described Early as being on the autism spectrum.  How does this affect his character and the story?
  • Why does Pi’s story seem to match so well with Early and Jack’s adventures?

Why I Chose This:

The title and the cover of this book caught my eye.  With the picture of the two boys in their boat look like they are about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.  I was curious to see who or what Early was.  To be navigated, I thought it was a place.  But knowing that Early is a person, it is an interesting title because to navigate Early is to make sense of his thoughts and emotions, which is made especially difficult being on the autism spectrum.

Savvy by Ingrid Law

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Law, Ingrid.  Savvy.  Dial Books for Young Readers, 2008.  $16.99, 352 pages

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.ingridlaw.com/Site/HOME.html

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:  Can Mibs’ use her savvy in time to save her father from a coma?

Summary:

When a member of the Beaumont family turns 13, he or she discovers their “savvy” or magical talent.  Mississippi “Mibs” Beaumont is about to turn 13.  Her older brothers are able to control electricity and summon powerful storms.  Her mother does everything perfectly.  Her father, disappointingly, is “normal.”  Eager to find out her savvy, the celebrations of her special day are dampened when her father ends up in a coma after an accident and her mother leaves to go to her father’s side.  Because Mibs thinks her savvy is restoring life, she is eager to join her mother and father and to return her father to his full capacity.  She convinces her siblings, and a ragtag group of friends, to accompany her on a journey that promises to be full of adventure.  Stowing away on a Bible mobile, this quirky group journey from the town of Emerald to her father’s hospital bedside, discovering their own voices, strengths, and special talents that have nothing to do with savvies.

Evaluation:

Ingrid Law’s Savvy is a coming of age story about a 13 year old girl and her friends.  Through this whimsically written tale of magic and family, and questing and self-discovery, Mibs learns about her strengths and qualities that have nothing to do with the magical talents that her family gains at 13.  It is the story of family love, where Mibs wants to help her father with her new talent (which turns out to be something else entirely).  Finding the good in things that appear to be bad is another theme that runs through this novel.  It is also the story of finding her own voice and heeding it.  The characters are quirky and endearing, believable in their bonds with each other.  Using both humor and fantasy, Law creates another world, but a realistic one where the reader watches as Mibs and her friends mature and overcome obstacles set in their way.  There are some made up vocabulary words used for world building that make the language more complex, as is Law’s writing style itself.  Other references to The Wizard of Oz can also be found in the story, which may make it more accessible for other readers who are familiar with this other story.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre:  fantasy, magic, coming of age

Appeal Factors:  magical abilities, family relationships, friendships, quest, quirky characters, coming of age

Readalike Titles or Authors:

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Newbery Honor Book
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Beaumont family’s savvies
  • First appearance of Mibs’ savvy
  • Starting the quest to get to her father

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • What savvy would you want?
  • How was Mibs able to find peace with her actual savvy?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because of the magical aspect.  I thought it was an interesting concept that all the members of the Beaumont family would receive special “savvies” when they turned 13.  The mystery of what Mibs’ actual savvy is was intriguing.  I also enjoyed the colorful cast of characters, and Law’s writing style.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

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Setterfield, Diane. The Thirteenth Tale.  Atria, 2006.  $26.00, 406 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:

http://www.dianesetterfield.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

A writer with a mysterious past, an amateur biographer with a love of books, the missing story that brings them together and reveals all the dark secrets.

Summary:

When Margaret Lea gets the summons from novelist Vida Winters to write her biography, she is hesitant to accept.  Winters’ past has always been shrouded in mystery, as she has either evaded questions from the press or made up wild stories that are later proven to be untrue.  After reading a rare copy of Vida’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation, and realizing that there are only 12 tales, Margaret decides to meet with Vida.  Vida intrigues Margaret to write her biography with the promise of the missing thirteenth tale.  What starts out as a story of two twins becomes a tale of the dysfunctional Angelfield family and their secrets that ultimately destroy the family members and those unfortunate enough to become entwined in their lives.  Along the way, the truth about Vida and the truth about Margaret, herself, comes to light.

Evaluation:

Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale has all the elements of a classic Gothic novel with dark, brooding characters; an isolated mansion; a young, naive heroine; and mystery and death.  It is elegantly written with beautiful descriptions and language.  The language itself is accessible, written in contemporary terms.  The characters are complex and many parallels can be drawn between the multiple stories that are told.  The complexity of the story is heightened with the multiple points of views and means of storytelling: Margaret as narrator, Vida as storyteller who has forbidden questions, and even Hester’s diary.  Thematically, the novel is rich with symbolism, foreshadowing, and well-crafted suspense and plotting.  There are references to Jane Eyre, which may help the reader better understand some of the Gothic elements of the story.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:

realistic fiction, mystery, modern Gothic

Appeal Factors:

mystery, family relationships and drama

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Darling Jim by Christian Moerk
  • Ghost Writer by John Harwood
  • The Unburied by Charles Palliser

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • 2007 Alex Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Reading Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation and deciding to meet with Vida Winters
  • The characterization of each twin
  • The “ghost child” story

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • (Spoiler) Which twin survived the fire?
  • How does the Gothic style of this novel add to the overall tone and mood?
  • What clues are given along the way that point out who Vida Winters really is?

Why I Chose This:

The mystery aspect of this novel was what drew me in.  I thought it was very clever to title it The Thirteenth Tale and that the story that was told was actually the thirteenth tale itself.  The mulit-person point of view was also compelling, in that each new character to tell the tale added another element to the mystery and to its solution.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan

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Sloan, Robin.  Mr. Penumbra’s 24 – Hour Bookstore.  Farrar, 2012.  $25, 304 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.robinsloan.com/

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

Ancient codes and secret societies are no match for Clay, his ragtag group of friends, and the powers of Google and modern technology.

Summary:

Graphic designer Clay Jannon is down on his luck.  Recently let go from designing the website for a bagel shop, he starts a new position: night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore.  The weird thing about this bookstore, or rather its customers, is that no one ever buys the new books.  Instead they head to the back of the store and rent from the set of books which Mr. Penumbra has warned Clay not to read.  When his curiosity gets the best of him, Clay discovers that the books are actually written in code.  Soon Clay is applying modern technology and algorithms to solve these complex codes.  With the help of Kat, a Google employee, Neel, a technology entrepeneur, and others of the digital world, Clay sets out on a quest that pits him against the Unbroken Spine in search of the legacy left behind by sixteenth century printer Aldus Manutius.

Evaluation:

Robin Sloan’s love of technology and literature are quite clear in this novel.  Thematically, it repeats the idea that technology complements literature and vice versa.  References to modern technology and the large role that it plays in Clay’s quest firmly sets this novel in contemporary times and makes it appealing to audiences of digital natives.  The language is also contemporary and easy to understand.  The descriptions and observations are both entertaining and witty.  The plot moves at an engaging pace, with the actions and events keeping the reader’s attention.  Rather than a novel of suspense or drama, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore reads more like a fantasy-buddy quest with a motley crew of likeable characters and the treasure of self-discovery as they search for another treasure all together.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 3
  • Quality: 3

Genre and Subgenre:  realistic fiction, adventure – technothriller, quest

Appeal Factors:  technology, questing, codes, secret society, Google

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • Alex Award
  • LA Times – Book Prize for First Fiction Finalist

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Description of the bookstore and Mr. Penumbra
  • Description of the suspicious bookstore clientele
  • Clay making progress in breaking the code

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Do you agree or disagree with Gerritszoon’s message at the end about friendship?
  • What is the future of printed books?  Will they become obsolete like the tech at Google predicted?
  • How do technology and literature complement each other?  Or do they?

Why I Chose This:

The promise of nerdy pursuits, a supporting cast of quirky characters, a quest, Google, all encompassed in a 24 hour bookstore was what drew me to this book.  A 24-hour bookstore sounded like an interesting concept.  I wondered what would go on in a bookstore at the wee hours of the morning.  The group of misfits banding together to solve a problem (or puzzle/code in this case) was also appealing, as I enjoy unconventional characters and seeing how they fit together and find or make their own place in the world.

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

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Farmer, Nancy.  The House of the Scorpion.  Simon & Schuster, 2002.  $17.95, 400 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:  http://www.nancyfarmerwebsite.com

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

When Matt realizes his sole reason for existing is to be replacement parts for a drug lord, he takes his future into his own hands.

Summary:

After Matt is successfully bred in a test tube, he goes to live uneventfully with the cook who works for El Patron.  By chance, Matt ends up at El Patron’s estate Opium, where he is recognized as El Patron’s clone.  The Alacran family treats Matt like an animal after making this discovery, however, Matt is unaware of who he is.  His only friends are Cecilia, the cook he lived with, Maria, the daughter of a senator, and Tam Lin, his bodyguard.  Matt is forced to face the truth when El Patron himself verifies that he is indeed a clone, and that he plans on harvesting his organs when his own fail.  Matt then makes the decision to escape, leaving behind everything and everyone he has known to become his own person.

Evaluation:

Being a science fiction work, this novel asks readers to stretch their imagination beyond what is viable with current technology. Despite this stretch of imagination, Matt’s character is believable as an emotional teenager who is trying to figure out who he is.  He even tests the boundaries of his own power the same way teens test boundaries.  Farmer’s writing style produces a chilling portrait of the future of Mexico and the drug trade.  She builds suspense around the discovery of Matt’s identity.  The language is contemporary but complex, painting a vivid picture of the characters and the plot.  Thematically, Farmer deals with themes of power and identity, of the ethics of cloning and slavery, and of family and belonging.  These complex themes bring up great discussion points and make the story much deeper than an interesting plot.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  science fiction – dystopia, bioengineering; adventure – survival

Appeal Factors: cloning, dystopia, mystery, action, adventure

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden
  • Feed by M.T. Anderson
  • Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • National Book Award
  • Printz Winner
  • Newbery Honor Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • The setting of Opium and the estate
  • Maria and Matt’s decision to run away
  • Confronting El Patron about his purpose in life as a clone

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Where would you prefer to live:  Opium or Aztlan?  What are the pros and cons of each?
  • Matt has a complicated relationship with El Patron.  When he leaves Opium, why might El Patron be included in the group of people Matt cries for?
  • Are clones their own entities?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because Matt’s character was compelling, as was his story.  All teenagers are searching for their identities, and Matt had the added element that he was a clone of someone else.  The setting was also interesting, as it was a real place, just set in the future.  I was also curious as to how Farmer envisioned the future of issues like cloning and drug trafficking, and even immigration that are contemporary issues being dealt with today.