Wednesday, September 22, 2021

PUNCHING BAG by Rex Ogle

 

Author Rex Ogle began telling readers his story in FREE LUNCH. During his early childhood he experienced enough poverty, bullying, and abuse from family members, it seems he would lose all hope. He carries on his story into his high school years in this new release titled PUNCHING BAG.

Rex doesn't hold back as he details fights between his mother and his stepfather Sam. Protecting his little brother Ford is Rex's primary concern with his own survival coming in second. Life meant getting through each day with as little physical and emotional damage as possible.

The only freedom and safety for Rex came from going to school or spending time with Ford in the apartment while his mother and stepfather were away. Even working multiple jobs didn't always assure rent and food money from the adults in his life. When his mother and Sam were home, they were usually yelling and fighting. As the title suggests, Rex was often a punching bag for the grownups who always seemed to say they were sorry and that they loved him after inflicting blows that left Rex with bruises he couldn't always hide.

As Rex gets older, he begins to call his mother on her abuse. Knowing she suffers from mental illness keeps Rex from throwing his own punches, but he tries to speak the truth to her hoping she might one day put Ford and Rex's needs before her own at least once. Dream on. Rex does his best to compensate and be there for his brother.

One thing that helps Rex cope is images of the little sister he recently discovered he might have had. During one their awful fights, Rex learns the secret of his mother's earlier pregnancy and the stillbirth of a baby girl after a severe beating from a drunken Sam. They named her Marisa, and Rex imagines she appears to help guide him through particularly rough times.

PUNCHING BAG is not an easy read as Rex Ogle reveals life in an abusive situation in one stark scenario after another. His strength and determination do offer an inspiration that shouldn't be missed.




Monday, September 20, 2021

WHAT ABOUT WILL by Ellen Hopkins

 

Trace will never forget the day his older brother Will was injured on the football field. The TBI (traumatic brain injury) Will suffered left him with a facial tic, horrible headaches, depression, and a personality change. Now their parents are divorced and Trace's mom is constantly on the road with her music career while his father is busy at his Las Vegas casino job. That leaves twelve-year-old Trace to fend for himself most of the time.

Trace remembers Will as the older brother who let him hang out even though he was five years older. Will was never too busy to answer Trace's questions or help him with whatever he needed. Now between fits of rage and bouts of depression, Will doesn't want to spent time with family at all. Trace knows he can no longer depend on Will to drive him to school, pick him up from baseball practice, or be there when he gets home at the end of the day. He has noticed Will has a new set of "friends" who look pretty shady.

Meanwhile life goes on. Trace goes to school, plays baseball, and does chores for the elderly man next door. A new girl named Cat begins playing on Trace's baseball team, and he discovers she's not only a great player but also a potential new friend. Learning that her dad is the famous player Alex Sanchez is cool, too. He even signs Trace's baseball glove and offers Trace rides home when Will doesn't show up.

Things come to a head for Trace when his formerly loving and supportive brother begins stealing from him. First it's money from Trace's hard earned savings and then it's the autographed mitt. Trace feels dismissed when he tries to tell his father about his concerns. Calls to his mother on tour with her band don't seem to make a difference either. Meanwhile, Trace watches as his brother spirals toward a frightening cliff.

Author Ellen Hopkins has written her second middle grade novel in verse. Her take on a family coping with depression and addiction is spot on. Viewed through the eyes of young Trace, readers will see an innocence and fear that is present in too many young lives today. WHAT ABOUT WILL is sure to resonant with middle grade readers dealing with similar issues or readers looking to understand someone is. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

ALI CROSS by James Patterson

 



Well-known author James Patterson continues to create books for younger readers. His famous detective character Alex Cross has a son Ali, named after Muhammad Ali, who is solving crimes on his own.

In book #1 in the series, Ali's best friend goes missing. Gabe Qualls is a quiet kid who likes to be on his own unless he is in the thick of things in an online game called Outpost. Now he is missing, and no one seems to be looking for him. Ali begins snooping around and with the help of a couple of other friends, they find some clues they think might get the cops to take Gabe's disappearance a bit more seriously.

At the same time multiple break ins in Ali's neighborhood have the cops focused on other things. Ali's own house was broken into on Christmas Eve. Missing presents and his parents' police service weapons were among the things taken. The police suspect Gabe could be involved, and Ali is beginning to think the same thing especially when the weapons and a few other items are mysteriously returned.

Patterson uses his trademark short chapters and non-stop action to hold his readers' attention. The adventure continues in ALI CROSS: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON.  

Thursday, September 16, 2021

PAX, JOURNEY HOME by Sara Pennypacker

 

A huge thank you to 5th grade teacher Colby Sharp for introducing me to PAX earlier this summer. I usually pick up animal books only because I know young readers enjoy them and I want to be able to share ideas with my college students headed into their own classrooms. PAX book #1 is not just any animal story. Pax and his human friend Peter touched my heart. Now PAX, JOURNEY HOME continues Sara Pennypacker's second adventure with the pair.

Book #2 picks up with Pax living in the wild with his mate Bristol and their three kits. Peter has been living with Vola, even building his own small hideaway near her cabin. Now he has decided to join the Water Warriors as a junior volunteer. The war is over and the Warriors are traveling across the area to repair and reclaim contaminated water sights. Peter sees this as his chance to leave Vola and return to the home he and his father left behind before the war. 

Pennypacker uses alternating chapters to highlight the adventures of Pax and Peter. Pax is learning the role of mate and parent as he navigates the wild searching for shelter, food, and protection from less friendly humans. Little does he know the water in places like the mill pond could be dangerous, especially to his young kits.

Peter is determined to get to his old home and live on his own. Working with a couple of Water Warriors as they travel from one water source to another, he gains precious knowledge and a better understanding of what it means to depend on one another, and that doing so doesn't mean giving up one's own control. Hoping to find Pax along the way motivates Peter to keeping heading to the place he last saw his own father before losing him to the war. Facing the truth about the man he wasn't always close to and searching for the fox he still loves, makes for emotional moments that bring Peter into even sharper focus for readers.

If you haven't discovered PAX and PAX, JOURNEY HOME, I highly recommend a trip to the library or bookstore. They are books you won't soon forget.

Monday, September 13, 2021

BEDHEAD TED by Scott SanGiacomo

 

Ted's hair is a marvel to some, but for Ted it's a target for bullies. His hair has always been with him. Unlike most babies born bald, Ted had his first haircut when he was just weeks old. Now his hair gets him teased and taunted with nicknames like the most recent - Bedhead Ted.

At least Ted has his best friend Stacy. Together they try to stay clear of the bullies. Lately, Stacy has been obsessed with the town legend, the Brookside Beast. Supposedly, the giant racoon has been sighted throughout the years terrorizing people's garbage cans and even threatening small children. Stacy is determined to find the Beast and save the town.

Ted is ready to help, but when a couple of kids from the bully crowd show up and make friends with Stacy, Ted's jealousy kicks into high gear. He isn't used to sharing his best friend, and now just isn't the right time. Ted has recently discovered that his hair may have super powers. He needs Stacy more than ever to figure out exactly what is happening with his crazy hair.

BEDHEAD TED is an excellent graphic novel adventure by Scott SanGiacomo. Full of colorful images and clever dialogue, readers will love this wacky story and connect with Ted as he struggles to figure out what he has to offer the world. Aimed at the 8-12 age group, BEDHEAD TED is sure to be a winner with readers of all ages. 

GIVE AND TAKE by Elly Swartz

 

The worst day in twelve-year-old Maggie's life was the day her grandmother didn't recognize her. Yes, Nana had been diagnosed with dementia, but how could she forget her own granddaughter?

Ever since Maggie has been terrified of forgetting the important moments in her life. To help insure her memories never leave her, Maggie saves random objects that represent events in her life. Each item is tucked away in a box in her closet, under her bed, or in her locker at school. Maggie now has eleven boxes and counting. She knows it isn't normal, but when her mother discovers the boxes and insists Maggie must get rid of what she identifies as clutter, Maggie discovers an anger bigger than she can manage.

When Maggie's parents agree to temporarily foster a newborn waiting to be adopted, Maggie is excited until she realizes having only a short time with baby Izzie could mean she'll forget her. This becomes another trigger for Maggie's stress.

Author Elly Swartz highlights childhood mental health in GIVE AND TAKE. This middle grade novel uses Maggie's imperfect character to point out how families deal with loss and love and different personal reactions to both. An unusual aspect of Maggie's story is her exceptional ability in competitive trapshooting which fits well into the storyline to show Maggie's strength and focus.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

THE BUBBLE WRAP BOY by Phil Earle

 

Charlie Han wishes more than anything that he was bigger. Being the tiniest kid in his school and living in an apartment connected to the Chinese takeout his parents own, isn't winning him any popularity with the rest of his peers. In fact he is the target for most of the jokes and a fair amount of the torture dreamed up by the cool kids. That well-known phrase "good things come in small packages" doesn't offer even a tiny bit of comfort.

Too make matters worse, Charlie's mother wins first prize for being over-protective. She doesn't let him step out on the street without endless warnings and whatever protective gear she can dream up. She finally lets him make deliveries for the takeout, but he has to use a clunky, old three wheel bike with a huge basket. It barely moves and isn't cool at all.

When Charlie discovers a hidden love for skateboarding, he knows he must keep it a secret from his mother. He begins to think this danger-filled sport might be his special something. He even earns a bit of respect from the other skaters at the skate park, that is until the day his mother shows up and terrorizes everyone within the sound of her extremely loud voice.

Charlie believes his hopes and dreams of becoming an awesome skater are over, but then he discovers a secret his mother has that might be just the thing to force her to allow him to return to the half pipe and his dreams.

Author Phil Earle captures  Charlie and the other quirky characters perfectly. Humor and candid dialogue make THE BUBBLE WRAP BOY a wicked good read. Earle proves that friendship, love, and family can make dreams come true.