2018-2019 Top 5th Grade Picks

















*All of the images are from Amazon



Time Dogs by Helen Moss

We are excited to be hosting Helen Moss, author of the new book series: Time Dogs. These books gave me all the Magic Treehouse and Ranger in Time vibes and are perfect for young readers that want chapter books that are age appropriate! Both books are available now and are targeted for ages 5-7. 






Mystery, History and A Dog With A Story

It’s such a joy to see my stories brought to life in these beautifully designed books, with adorable illustrations (somehow both elegantly understated and super-cute at the same time!) by Misa Saburi.

Like all books, Time Dogs grew out of a multitude of thoughts, feelings and chance encounters, but I’ve picked out three main strands of inspiration to share . . .

Mystery

As a seriously bookish child, my all-time favorite reads were mysteries, especially Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven. In writing my own series, Adventure Island and Secrets of the Tombs, I tried to recapture the magical feeling of being swept up in those stories. On the surface, mysteries are all about adventure, danger and catching bad guys. But beneath, run the deeper, stiller waters of friendship and fairness. I think of these as the secret ingredients.

Then, of course, there’s the not-so-secret ingredient – there really should be a dog. After all, what is a dog, but friendship and fairness wrapped up in a furry coat? So, in Adventure Island, the children are ably assisted by rescue dog, Drift. Going into schools on author visits, I soon learned that Drift was everyone’s favorite member of the team. Kids always want to tell me about their own dogs too - why they would be good at solving mysteries (or not – many would simply eat the clues!)

The message was clear: next time, why not cut out the humans and write about a gang of dogs having adventures of their own?

History

With the dogs-go-it-alone idea barking loudly for attention, I set about rereading my favorite dog books; The Incredible Journey, The One Hundred and One Dalmations, Dogsong, The Good Dog . . . But it was when I picked up Roland Smith’s The Captain’s Dog that inspiration struck. It’s a signed copy, a prized possession, from an author talk I attended during the wonderful year we spent as a family in Portland. It was 2005-6, the bi-centenary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and Oregon was Lewis and Clark crazy.  In The Captain’s Dog, the story of the journey is told through the eyes of Lewis’s faithful Newfoundland, Seaman . . .  

And that was it! My gang of ‘ordinary’ dog friends wouldn’t just solve mysteries. They would travel back in time and meet canine characters like Seaman. What adventures they could have together! I did some research and soon had a list of hundreds of amazing dogs whose lives are woven throughout human history – rescue dogs, performing dogs, war dogs, royal dogs, stunt dogs . . .  

One thing was clear. This wasn’t just my next book. It was a whole series.

A Dog With A Story

Now my Time Dogs had a mission (and a name!) I could start putting the gang together.

I love dogs. I love their eagerness, their earnestness, their living in the moment.  Two very old border collies lie under my desk as I write, snuffling comfortably in their sleep. Maia is growing deaf. Storm had a major operation last year. But they still leap to their paws, ready for anything, whether it’s a biscuit, a walk, or – best of all - the homecoming of the two tall young men they remember as noisy kids. No prizes, then for guessing why I included Newton, the smart border collie.  Baxter, the loyal but nervous yellow lab soon followed, along with Trevor, the bossy Jack Russell and Maia the competitive papillon - all drawing on dogs I’ve known over the years.

Then came the challenge of seeing the world through a dog’s eye (and more importantly, ear and nose!) How would dogs make sense of time travel? Would they have fun? Would they be frightened? What would they learn?

Would they miss their humans terribly and want to go home?

Of course, they would!

All but one, that is. Unlike the other Time Dogs, Titch doesn’t have a human family. She doesn’t even like humans (they’re seriously overrated as a species, she thinks). She’s greedy, selfish and rude. Yet, of all the pack, Titch is secretly my favorite. She’s funny and smart and has a great big heart. She can’t help doing the right thing even when she doesn’t want to.

Titch is based on a real dog too. Years ago, walking Storm and Maia near a local lake while my sons were at sailing camp, I met another Mom, who’d also brought her dog along - a big old German Shepherd with a friendly face and quite the backstory. He had lived with a homeless man on the streets of Manchester for years. Sadly, the owner died, and the dog was rehomed. He enjoyed his new role as a regular family dog, but old habits die hard; street life had given him a taste for take-out vindaloo (extra-spicy curry) and Special Brew (extra-strong beer). We’re trying to persuade him to eat a healthier diet, the new owner told me. We just have to keep him away from trash cans.

I don’t remember that German Shepherd’s name, but his story stayed with me.

Years later, he wandered into Happy Paws Farm Doggy Daycare, just as the time machine was taking off, hopped aboard at the very last second, and joined the rest of the pack on their adventures.

Image result for Helen Moss Time Dogs


No Place Like Here Blog Tour


Welcome to our blog! I'm excited to review No Place Like Here by Christina June. I love her books because each is inspired by a fairy tale. This novel is a modern retelling of Hansel & Gretel.


SYNOPSIS:

From Christina June, author of It Started with Goodbye and Everywhere You Want to Be, comes No Place Like Here, a modern twist on Hansel and Gretel. Ashlyn Zanotti has big plans for the summer. She’s just spent a year at boarding school and can’t wait to get home. But when Ashlyn’s father is arrested for tax evasion and her mother enters a rehab facility for “exhaustion,” her life is turned upside down.
The cherry on top? Ashlyn’s father sends her to work with a cousin she doesn’t even know at a rustic team-building retreat center in the middle of nowhere. A self-proclaimed “indoor girl,” not even Ash’s habit of leaving breadcrumb quotes—inspirational sayings she scribbles everywhere—can help her cope.
With a dangerously careless camp manager doling out grunt work, an overbearing father trying to control her even from prison, and more than a little boy drama to struggle with, the summer is full of challenges. And Ashlyn must make the toughest decision of her life: keep quiet and follow her dad’s marching orders, or find the courage to finally stand up to her father to have any hope of finding her way back home.
Fans looking for clean teen fiction, with elements of drama, romance, friendship, and an unflinching look into navigating and improving even the most difficult parent-teen relationships need look no further.

MY THOUGHTS:

If you haven't started your summer reading yet, add this coming-of-age story to your list! Ashlyn's parents are a mess. Her dad has been arrested and her mom enters rehab in order to get help for depression. These two incidents propel Ashlyn's summer in an unexpected direction-one that involves a zipline, a love triangle, and hiking!

There were so many things I loved about this book, but my favorite part was Ashlyn's journey. She starts the summer thinking it's going to be filled with poolside chats with her best friends. Instead, she's shipped off to a rustic camp where she's expected to reconnect with her cousin, Hannah. It's here where she learns to take back control of her own life. 

The Hansel and Gretel connections are there, but subtle. There's an Aunt Greta, a metaphorical witch (Deb!), gingerbread houses, a trail of quotes rather than breadcrumbs, a water element, and abandonment. In the original version of Hansel and Gretel, the kids are taken to the woods by their parents where they must cross water before returning home. Similarly, Ashlyn is sent to the woods, abandoned by the people she loves. Towards the end of the book, there's a scene involving water where Ashlyn learns a valuable lesson about family and truth.

Overall, this was a perfect summer read, with elements of family, friendship, and learning to be yourself!

Purchase Links

Amazon | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble

Connect with Christina

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram



Hurricane Season: Author Interview

*Affiliated link to Amazon! 

For Fig’s dad, hurricane season brings the music.
For Fig, hurricane season brings the possibility of disaster.
 
Fig, a sixth grader, loves her dad and the home they share in a beachside town. She does not love the long months of hurricane season. Her father, a once-renowned piano player, sometimes goes looking for the music in the middle of a storm. Hurricane months bring unpredictable good and bad days. More than anything, Fig wants to see the world through her father’s eyes, so she takes an art class to experience life as an artist does. Then Fig’s dad shows up at school, confused and looking for her. Not only does the class not bring Fig closer to understanding him, it brings social services to their door.
 
As the walls start to fall around her, Fig is sure it’s up to her alone to solve her father’s problems and protect her family’s privacy. But with the help of her best friend, a cute girl at the library, and a surprisingly kind new neighbor, Fig learns she isn’t as alone as she once thought . . . and begins to compose her own definition of family.
 
Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a radiant and tender novel about taking risks and facing danger, about friendship and art, and about growing up and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story about love—both its limits and its incredible healing power.


I found the storyline to be very intriguing. I loved Fig and I loved that she wanted so badly to be her father's keeper, but I do know there are moments in my students lives where they have to step back and understand they need to just be a kid. I liked the way Nicole explored that subject that tends to happen so often in middle grade classrooms. I loved all of the social issues interwoven, I just feel like with some kids it will definitely be too much, which is okay because not every book is for every kid, but I know wholeheartedly there are going to be kids out there who definitely need THIS EXACT STORY. 🌊


Early reviews of Hurricane Season:

“Fig Arnold is an original and irresistible heroine in a story full of hope, art, and love.” –R. J. Palacio, author of Wonder


“This debut novel—about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about growing up and coming out—will make its way straight into your heart…stunning…I found it hard to put down.” –Confessions of a YA Reader


“Melleby’s debut novel includes two coming-out stories—Fig has a crush on an older girl—but integrates these elements naturally into its main story of the father-daughter relationship, as each struggles with how much to share with the other and when. Details involving art and science (STEM-oriented Fig tries to relate to her musician father and draws connections between his condition and Vincent van Gogh’s) lend specificity and keep the plotlines centering on LGBTQ+ identities and bipolar disorder from feeling overly formulaic.” –The Horn Book



Q: Tell us about your book, specifically the story behind the title.
A: My book is a story about the relationship between a daughter and father, struggling to stay afloat in the face of his bipolar disorder. The title, HURRICANE SEASON, captures the storm brewing both inside of their home, and in the Jersey Shore weather outside of it. Hurricane season is also the focus of the main character, Fig’s countdown—November 30th is both the end of hurricane season and the date of the upcoming follow up visit social services has with her and her dad.
Q: What was your inspiration behind Hurricane Season’s story line?
A: In spring 2017, my cousin was studying abroad in London. My aunt and uncle were planning a vacation to go out for a week to see him, and I basically invited myself along.  I was coming out of a pretty bad depression period, and hadn’t really been writing anything much, but I was ready to try something new. I knew I wanted to explore the relationship between a father and daughter…but that was pretty much all I had.

I wasn’t planning on writing during the trip—I planned on getting the much needed break and then coming home and trying. But I adjusted to the jet lag pretty quickly, and my family didn’t, so I had my mornings to myself. I knew that the National Gallery in London was free so I decided to check it out.

When I got to the Van Gogh paintings, there was a tour guide talking about Van Gogh’s mental illness, and there was something so unbelievable relatable about what he was saying, particularly since I was just coming out of my own depression. I ended up going to the gift shop and buying a book of Van Gogh’s letters and read them all on the plane ride home. By the time we landed, I knew exactly what I wanted to write.
Q: Will you explain a little bit about your writing life?
A: When I was around eight, I watched the Nickelodeon movie adaptation of Harriet the Spy. After I saw it, I immediately begged my parents to buy me notebooks just like Harriet had. I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since, though I didn’t exactly know for sure how to make a career of it. I actually got my BA in TV/Film, because I wanted to write for soap operas, and it was a bit later that I decided to get my MFA in Creative Writing and start focusing on novels again.

When I write, I like to be in bed (I know you’re not supposed to work in bed—but I love being comfortable!) with a huge cup of coffee, and my cat Gillian awkwardly splayed out in my lap. I don’t write to music, I find it distracting, but I do usually have the Food Network on in the background! I’ve also always been a “character first, plot later” kind of writer—which I think I get from my love of soap operas and their focus on character and relationships.
Q: What are some challenges unique to writing stories that encompass social issues? And how do you involve yourself in any issues that may arise with people out there who might question some of your characters?
A: First and foremost, the challenge is remembering who your audience is. I firmly believe you shouldn’t underestimate what kids can handle (and do handle in their everyday lives) so when I’m writing a story that deals with more social issues and “tougher topics”, I want to write it in a way that is true and real and not watered down for them. But they aren’t the ones necessarily purchasing the books—teachers and parents and librarians are the ones who get these books into the hands of these kids, so it’s important to keep them in mind, too, without letting that distract from the story you’re trying to tell. I think the best that I can do when issues arise is just continue to write the story—because it’s what I would have needed at a young age, too.
Q; What makes this book a perfect fit for middle grade classrooms?
A: It does deal with a lot of topics that some may view as “tougher” topics, but are ones that middle grade readers are living. Mental illness, budding sexualities—they’re experiencing it, too. I wrote this book so that they would know that they aren’t alone, that they’re seen, that I see them, and I think that’s why it’s a perfect fit for a classroom. You can start a lot of conversations around mental illness, around Van Gogh, and around the things that Fig feels and lives and goes through.
Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A: Getting to tell stories! I’ve always loved being a storyteller. When I was really little, my family says I could make anything into a toy. I would play with little rocks, or utensils, or whatever was in front of me and make up elaborate stories with them. So, really, it’s always been about the stories for me. Now, I’d have to say the readers, particularly the middle grade audience themselves. It’s been just a joy to connect with them and hear their reactions (and opinions—of which they have many!) to my book. 
Q: How do you get started on your writing, and what advice would you give to middle grade students who are writing?
A: Like I said early, I’m very much a character first writer. Which means, I always start with coming up with a character, and worry about figuring out the plot as I go along. This…isn’t always great, but I’ve never been good at writing outlines. But to get started, sometimes you just have to…start, and treat it like a job (especially if that’s what you want it to be!) I try and carve out time during my day that I dedicate to writing, and I write. I don’t always write anything good…but sometimes you have to just push through the bad until you hit a groove. So, my advice would be…just write! And keep writing. If it’s what you love, be resilient.
Q: Future projects that you are currently working on? 
A: My second book, which comes out next spring! Playing off of my love of soap operas, it’s about a soap-loving 13-year-old Catholic school student with a complicated relationship with her mom, made more complicated when the main character has her first crush on another girl. I keep referring to it as a middle grade LADY BIRD meets SIMON VS THE HOMOSAPIEN AGENDA.
Q: What else would you like us to know?
A: Since I’ve talked so much about my love of soap operas, I’ll share that my main character, Fig (whose full name is Finola) was named after Finola Hughes who plays a character on General Hospital! (Most of my character names come from places like that!)





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