Blog Tour: Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre


Last in a Long Line of Rebels by Lisa Lewis Tyre. Nancy Paulsen Books. 288 pp.

Hello, and welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Last in a Long Line of Rebels!

I love middle grade: kids are on the cusp of adolescence, and there are so many stories that can be told about this time in their lives. Also, it makes me a little nostalgic, because this is the age when my memories of reading independently get stronger. I mean, I learned to read (really read) in preschool (fun fact: in my kindergarten admission interview, the administrator swore I couldn’t really read and had just memorized my favorite books; my mom grabbed a magazine from the office to prove her wrong). But I don’t remember my preschool or early elementary years as much as I remember things from third grade on. And I remember having my nose in a book all the time. The Boxcar Children, Alice in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Chronicles of Narnia…I don’t just remember the titles; I actually remember reading them. And reading a book I would have loved at that age warms my heart and makes me eager to pass it along to my sons one day. They’re one and three, and I want them to age as slowly as possible, but sharing books with them will make it bearable, I hope. (Today my son said, “Mommy, when I get bigger, I’m going to read Harry Potter, just like you” and I teared up a little.)

What I’m getting to (longwindedly, I admit) is that this is one of those books. Here’s the synopsis:

Debut novelist Lisa Lewis Tyre vibrantly brings a small town and its outspoken characters to life, as she explores race and other community issues from both the Civil War and the present day.

Lou might be only twelve, but she’s never been one to take things sitting down. So when her Civil War-era house is about to be condemned, she’s determined to save it—either by getting it deemed a historic landmark or by finding the stash of gold rumored to be hidden nearby during the war. As Lou digs into the past, her eyes are opened when she finds that her ancestors ran the gamut of slave owners, renegades, thieves and abolitionists. Meanwhile, some incidents in her town show her that many Civil War era prejudices still survive and that the past can keep repeating itself if we let it. Digging into her past shows Lou that it’s never too late to fight injustice, and she starts to see the real value of understanding and exploring her roots.


There are so many things to love about this book that I’m not sure where to start. The format is smart: each chapter opens with an excerpt from the diary of one of Lou’s Civil-War-era ancestors. The material is vague enough to avoid giving away the plot too soon, but these entries do provide small clues and insight into the events that Lou is researching.

The cast is great as well: Lou is a member of a stable family on the cusp of change (her mother is due any day with a new baby), her grandmother is as vivacious (and flirtatious) as they come, and she has some truly excellent friends. I like that Lou’s friends are varied in their interests and personalities; although Lou isn’t a girly girl, her cousin Patty is, and this doesn’t affect their friendship in any way. Benzer (an Italian from the northeast) and Franklin (a wealthy, brainy type) round out their group, and the four of them embrace their differences instead of arguing about them. In fact, their various upbringings and skills lend themselves marvelously to their research endeavors as each kid brings his or her strengths to the table.

In other aspects of the book, diversity isn’t quite so celebrated: a local African-American athlete is overlooked for a prestigious scholarship even though he’s clearly the most qualified recipient, and Lou’s beloved grandmother often speaks condescendingly of “Yankees,” hurting Benzer’s feelings along the way. I appreciated that Lou’s world wasn’t all sunshine and perfection; her story shows that things work well when acceptance reigns, but it also shows that life isn’t always fair and that prejudice is (sadly) still a part of our world.

The themes of racial and geographical prejudice are joined by a smattering of Civil War history, mystery, and religion. There’s so much in here that I’d be thrilled for my kids to read about, and it’s paced so well that it doesn’t feel scattered or like too much material is included.

Also, the book takes place in 1999, so there’s limited technology. Franklin uses the Internet for research, but most of the kids’ snooping for facts takes place at the library, in the stacks. They spend their time outside, running around, not texting one another. Even though I value the benefits of technology, I don’t want my kids to read about characters primarily watching movies or messaging; I want them to read books about people doing things.

All in all: A smart, entertaining book with lots of heart. It shows the world as it is while remaining hopeful for further progress, and I look forward to the day I can pass it down to my son (he’s turning four soon, so I’ll add it to the ever-growing stack of middle grade books I can’t wait for him to read).


About Lisa Lewis Tyre, the author: I grew up in a small town in Tennessee surrounded by my crazy family and neighbors. I learned early on that not every child had a pet skunk, a dad that ran a bar in the front yard, or a neighbor that was so large his house had to be torn down to get him out. What else could I do but write?

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. I think this is because I come from a long line of storytellers. I loved listening to my dad tell me about the escapades of his youth, like how he “accidentally” pushed his brother out of a two-story window, and “accidentally” shot his aunt’s chicken with a bow and arrow. Apparently he was accident-prone.
One of the stories they told me involved the name of our piece of the country. I lived in a tiny spot that the locals called Zollicoffer. When I asked why it had such a strange name, they said it was named after General Felix Zollicoffer who had camped nearby during the Civil War. One day I happened to ask my mom where exactly the camp had been. That’s when she pointed down the road and said, “Probably over there. That’s where some kids in the 50’s found GOLD.” And just like that, LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS was born.


Tuesday, February 2nd: Randomly Reading
Wednesday, February 3rd: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Thursday, February 4th: Life is Story
Monday, February 8th: Just Commonly
Wednesday, February 10th: Shooting Stars Mag
Thursday, February 11th: Musings by Maureen
Wednesday, February 17th: WV Stitcher
Thursday, February 18th: Tina Says…
Friday, February 19th: Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, February 22nd: The Things You Can Read
Wednesday, February 24th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, February 25th: Just One More Chapter
Monday, February 29th: Laura’s Reviews
Wednesday, March 2nd: Absurd Book Nerd
Thursday, March 3rd: FictionZeal
Monday, March 7th: View from the Birdhouse


Keeping It Brief #3: Some Great Early Reader & Middle Grade Books

It’s that time again: time for me to catch up on reviews after a few months of binge reading. These books were all acquired at this year’s BEA and BookCon, and I’d recommend all three.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano. Bloomsbury. 240 pp.

A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Lauren DeStefano. Bloomsbury. 240 pp.

It seems an exaggeration to compare a writer to Neil Gaiman; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever done it before. Neil is sort of in a class of his own, because his writing is so gorgeous and chilling and magical. Lauren DeStefano’s writing is strong and magical like his, but it seems a disservice to simply say, “Oh, she’s like Neil.” She’s her own writer, a damn good one at that, and I look forward to getting my hands on some of her other books soon.

I loved Pram’s name and bravery; her eccentric, well-meaning aunts; and her gentle, devoted best friends. The narrative style is perfect: a bit of fantasy, a bit of fairy tale, a bit of dark reality. There is nothing about this book that I didn’t like…well, except for the fact that it didn’t exist when I was in elementary school. I would have adored this book as a child! (I love it now, but there’s something to be said for the love a child holds for her favorite books; it’s a different kind of relationship, I think.)

George by Alex Gino. Scholastic. 240 pp.

George by Alex Gino. Scholastic. 240 pp.

Here’s what I love about this book: it’s recommended for ages 8-12. George is the only book I’m aware of that introduces gender identity in a way that’s geared toward elementary-school-aged kids.

I was dubious of this one at first, because the synopsis sounded remarkably similar to that of Gracefully Grayson, a book I read last year. But after getting my hands on a copy at BEA, I realized that George is its own story entirely. The demographic is different, of course, but so are the writing style and the details of the story.

From the very beginning, George is referred to with female pronouns. She’s always known who she is, and the way that Alex Gino’s narrative is arranged, the reader can’t doubt this either. It’s so matter-of-fact: others see George as a boy, but she’s really a girl. That’s all. (It would be great if it was this simple in the real world, but hopefully, if enough stories are told in this manner, attitudes and prejudices will start to change.) I wonder if young readers will understand this immediately or if they will be confused at the fact that everyone else calls George “he.” Before having kids, I taught high school English; although I have very little experience with young readers, I wish I could observe an elementary school class and hear their responses to this book. We need different kinds of stories in the world, and George fills a gap that I hadn’t previously been aware of. I can’t wait to hear how kids respond to it.

Auggie & Me by R.J. Palacio. Alfred A. Knopf. 304 pp.

Auggie & Me by R.J. Palacio. Alfred A. Knopf. 304 pp.

I remember when The Julian Chapter was released as a Kindle single. I wasn’t buying Kindle books at the time and was sad that there wasn’t another way to get my hands on it. I was thrilled to see this book, a re-release of three Kindle singles all loosely related to August Pullman, the protagonist of R.J. Palacio’s mind-blowing Wonder.

Palacio is a master at putting the reader into someone else’s shoes. The honesty of the three accounts contained in this book is moving; each child is affected differently by knowing Auggie, in ways both good and bad. I felt a sympathy toward each of them, to the initial shock they felt when seeing Auggie’s face, the obligations they felt to be nice to Auggie even though it made them less popular. I never would have thought I’d feel sympathetic to Julian, but his tale reminds the reader that everyone is going through more than meets the eye. This is a beautiful addition to the Wonderverse, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to read it.

Also, Christopher’s mother calls him “Honeyboy,” a term of endearment that I was sure I’d invented. It made me smile.

Review: Steve Jobs: Insanely Great by Jessie Hartland

Steve Jobs: Insanely Great by Jessie Hartland. Schwartz & Wade. 240 pp.

Steve Jobs: Insanely Great by Jessie Hartland. Schwartz & Wade. 240 pp.

I spotted this one at Penguin Random House’s BEA booth, in a stack on the floor next to copies of Illuminae and the new graphic novelization of The Golden Compass. It seemed to be geared to middle-school-aged kids, so I hesitated before picking this one up. Also, I had no idea that “graphic biography” was a genre…but I’m thrilled to have taken a gamble on this one because I absolutely adored it!

I’m not one for nonfiction, mostly because I love fiction so much that I rarely tear myself away from a novel to read anything else. I’ll read poetry here and there, but biographies or general nonfiction typically aren’t my thing. I’ve been even worse lately because I have two kids now, and I tend to read things that don’t require one hundred percent of my focus since I’m likely to be interrupted countless times while reading. I like to annotate and note-take while reading classics or nonfiction so that the material will sink in, and it’s difficult to do that when I have to get up multiple times an hour to help my seven-month-old settle down and get back to sleep.

So, even though I’m not the target audience for this book, it was perfect for me at this stage in my life. (I’m also holding on to it in case my sons want to read it when they’re older.) The material is broken into chapters, mostly by time but now and then by topic. The material is straightforward, and the illustrations work seamlessly with the text, making the overall story of Jobs’s life easy to envision and understand. I especially liked the two-page spreads that featured technology of the decades; today’s kids wouldn’t otherwise understand just how far music, information, and communication technology advanced over Steve Jobs’s lifetime and the specific role that he played in advancing them.

One of my favorite things about this book, though, is that the author doesn’t sugarcoat things. Jobs’s brainpower, innovative spirit, and constant quest for improvement are evident, but the reader is still shown his shortcomings (his poor personal hygiene and the way he berated his employees, for example). This isn’t a glowing, eyes-half-shut endorsement of Steve Jobs, or of Apple, and I appreciated that.

I think this particular book would be a wonderful gift for kids who are interested in Apple products or technology in general. It could be a useful medium for middle school kids in particular, or for readers of any age with lower reading skills (the vocabulary is simple, and the illustrations aid comprehension). As for the format of “graphic biography,” well, I’m in love. It’s a great way to ease unwilling nonfiction readers into enjoying fact-based books. It’s also a user-friendly way to get an overview of a topic; it provides a shallow introduction to a subject and gives the reader ideas about which specific areas he wants to research further.

All in all: Excellent concept and execution. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this (and my husband loved the tidbits of information I shared with him while reading). I learned a lot while being entertained, and I have a new appreciation for the multitude of technological contributions that Steve Jobs made.

Series Review: The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham. HarperCollins. 395 pp.

The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham. HarperCollins. 395 pp.

The Luck Uglies: Fork-Tongue Charmer. HarperCollins. 416 pp.

The Luck Uglies: Fork-Tongue Charmer. HarperCollins. 416 pp.

Let’s begin superficially: the covers on these books are beautiful. The art tingles with action, the colors and images eye-catching and the focus blurred ever-so-slightly in a once-upon-a-time-and-far-away sort of manner. It draws you in yet manages to be juuuust foreboding enough to make you linger on the threshold before embarking on your literary adventure.

These books follow the mishaps and mayhem following Rye O’Chanter (off-topic, maybe, but I love the surname O’Chanter; isn’t it charming?). Rye lives in a village called Drowning, which was long ago plagued by terrifying creatures called Bog Noblins. The citizens of Drowning once sought protection in a group of mercenaries called the Luck Uglies, but these defenders became as feared as the monsters they protected against and — like the Bog Noblins themselves — haven’t been spotted in years. When Drowning sees a resurgence of Bog Noblins, some of the citizens consider calling upon the Luck Uglies again while others cling tightly to old legends and prejudices. Rye’s history and fate are tied up with that of the outlaws’, and she finds herself thrown into a war that she struggles to navigate and understand. In the sequel, there are more monsters, more mischief, and more power plays; I don’t want to say too much because it might spoil the first book for you.

Paul Durham has created a series with the power to last. The world-building is done so smoothly you almost don’t notice that this isn’t our world. There are similarities in the holidays and politics, but they’re just far enough removed to seem new and exotic (for instance, leaving one’s shoes at the doorstep on Silvermas eve to have them filled with treats by Good Harper, a philanthropist of sorts who collects coins for charity). There’s a hint of magic in the plot, but Durham’s words hold a power all their own. He is a gifted storyteller, creating a varied cast of characters with problems that will keep you turning the pages. The action scenes surround the reader, and the quieter scenes focus on small details; nothing ever feels contrived or forced.

I don’t think there should be a designation between “girls’ books” and “boys’ books,” and it drives me crazy to think that boys may not want to read a series fronted by a young girl. I’m thrilled to see an adventure series with a main character that could have universal appeal; Rye is feisty enough to win over boys who would normally be dubious about reading a book with a female protagonist.

I’m in my thirties but enjoy reading books geared toward all ages (I read middle grade largely to bank recommendations for when my sons are older, but I enjoy a good story no matter the age of the protagonist and often enjoy my “research” far too much). There are certain books that I figure my sons will like when they’re a bit older but that don’t necessarily appeal to me. The Luck Uglies books fall into a different (and entirely superior) camp: Durham’s use of language makes them a joy for older readers as well.

Another pleasant surprise with these books is that the second one is as good as the first. Far too often nowadays, authors are given multiple-book contracts when they could really tell their story in a single volume. It seems that publishers are trying to find the next big series, and in so doing, they order a series when it’s entirely unnecessary. This frustrates me more than I can say because the first installment can be great, a live spark that dims by book two and fizzles out entirely by book three. I love a good series that I can get behind and recommend; I hate having to say, “Oh, that book was great. But don’t read the rest of the series because you’ll get angry at having wasted your time.” I don’t need to say that in this case, though: both of these books are recommendation- and gift-worthy.

All in all: These books would be a great gift for a young reader; they’re full of action and adventure while also slipping in some bits about family, love, and loyalty.

Review: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. Disney-Hyperion. 250 pp.

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky. Disney-Hyperion. 250 pp.

What if who you are on the outside doesn’t match who you are on the inside?

Grayson Sender has been holding onto a secret for what seems like forever: “he” is a girl on the inside, stuck in the wrong gender’s body. The weight of this secret is crushing, but sharing it would mean facing ridicule, scorn, rejection, or worse. Despite the risks, Grayson’s true self itches to break free. Will new strength from an unexpected friendship and a caring teacher’s wisdom be enough to help Grayson step into the spotlight she was born to inhabit? 

Debut author Ami Polonsky’s moving, beautifully-written novel about identity, self-esteem, and friendship shines with the strength of a young person’s spirit and the enduring power of acceptance.

At first glance, Grayson Sender is a twelve-year-old boy who gets good grades but keeps mainly to himself. [Note: Eventually, Grayson will probably choose to be referred to as “she,” but since that decision wasn’t made during the course of this book, I’ll use the pronoun “he.” I’m not thrilled with this designation because I feel like “she” is more fitting, but I’m trying to stick with the plot as it’s been covered so far.] Orphaned at a young age, he lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousins and flies below the radar as much as possible. Grayson’s big secret is one that he struggles to understand, one that involves drawings of princesses in castles; longings for soft, colorful clothing; and auditioning for the role of Persephone in the school’s stage production.

When Grayson actually gets the female role, the drama teacher is supportive but it seems that no one else is. The reactions of Grayson’s family, teachers, and fellow students are varied and sadly realistic. During an admission that is already terrifying for Grayson, it is heartbreaking to see the way he is treated (especially his aunt’s response).Classmates’ reactions range from teasing to outright physical assault as they rage vehemently against something that they don’t understand. A few girls in the drama club, though, embrace Grayson for who he is, and these girls are a breath of fresh air throughout the book.

All in all: Moving and definitely worth reading. If you enjoyed Wonder, you’ll likely enjoy this.

Blog Tour: Interview & Giveaway: Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull by James Matlack Raney

Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull by James Matlack Raney. Dreamfarer Press. 342 pp.

Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull by James Matlack Raney. Dreamfarer Press. 342 pp.

Over a year has passed since Jim Morgan outwitted the King of Thieves and escaped from London with his friends, Lacey and the Brothers Ratt. Now, at long last, Jim is ready to return home to Morgan Manor. But a dark vision haunts Jim’s dreams – a Crimson Storm with the face of a black skull. Soon, Jim is thrust into a deadly race against his father’s old enemies, Count Cromier and his son, Bartholomew. This time, he will face terrors beyond his imagination – pirate battles, hidden islands, sorcerers, and sea monsters. New foes and magic forces will tempt and test Jim. For there are terrible secrets he has yet to learn, secrets about his father, the Treasure of the Ocean, and his own incredible destiny. 

Welcome! I’m thrilled to be launching the blog tour for Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull by James Matlack Raney. I read Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves, the first book in the series, earlier this year and absolutely loved it (check out my review here). I’m excited to be helping promote the next installment in Jim’s adventures.

To celebrate the release of this book, I’ve got a copy to give away to a lucky winner! (Thanks to the author and to Smith Publicity for that, as well as for the opportunity to be a part of this tour.) Since this is a free WordPress blog, I can’t post the Rafflecopter link here. But if you click on the graphic below, you’ll be redirected to the giveaway page.



I’m glad to be featuring an interview with James Matlack Raney, talented author of the Jim Morgan books.

The adventure scenes in this book are truly gripping. (Well done!) What do you do to prepare yourself for writing an action-packed scene? 

Thank you so much! I’m glad you say so because I’m a little insecure about my action scenes. The real trick for me is to avoid the pitfalls of over-describing every beat of a high-adventure scene. Over the last fifteen or twenty years, I’ve noticed a trend in some books, particularly thrillers, in which many writers seem to be describing the movie of their book instead of writing the book itself. There’s so much action and so much detail that the purpose of the scene is lost. On the flip side of that is the temptation to write in all of the character’s emotions to amp up the energy: Jim was TERRIFIED, Lacey was FURIOUS, that sort of thing. I’m sure there’s still some of that in there, but I worked really hard to let the action speak for itself and keep it to purposeful minimum. I must have rewritten the sea monster scene about twelve times!

Without giving too much away, Jim is not quite himself for a bit of this book. What was it like to write scenes in which the hero is so non-heroic? Was it as difficult to write “mean Jim” as it was to read? 

It really was hard, and if there’s anything about this new release that terrifies me it is the audience reaction to that portion of the book. I know how essential it is to have a lead character that is likable and relatable, but also, it’s so important for me to show a character achieve redemption and overcome life’s most difficult obstacles. There’s not a person alive that’s always the best version of themselves. In fact, sometimes we can all be pretty awful. To me, a hero is not a perfect person, but the person who comes up against the worst parts of himself or herself and pushes through to do what’s right. That’s what Jim does, and to me, that’s what makes him a true hero.

What challenge that Jim and his friends face would you find most difficult?

The challenge of dark emotions and desires testing the limits of friendship. People are always strongest when united with friends and family, but it’s when those binds start to fray and our backs are against the wall that we find out what we’re really made of.

Which of your characters would you most like to have by your side in an adventure?

Lacey is a steadfast, reliable, and honest friend. She is really the conscience of the group, the needle of the moral compass, but what I love most about her is that even when she knows her friends are making a mistake, she stays by their side regardless. That’s a true friend.

Which character would you least like to have by your side? 

Oh, that’s a tough one! I love all my characters, so I think I’ll duck this one and say a certain character that makes an unexpected re-entry into the story at the end of the book. This individual is not very trustworthy at all… 

What are you currently reading?

I’m reading the Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. It’s really a beautiful book. After that though, I still haven’t read the Night Circus, so I’m looking forward to it.

What were some of your favorite books/stories when you were a child?

I’m a little boring, because I just love all the greats so much: Narnia, Hobbit, LOTR, Dune, Ender, Shannara, Watership Down, and anything Ray Bradbury is awesome. If I were growing up now though, Dark Tower series would have taken over my life and the Nicholas Flemel books by Michael Scott were a ton of fun.


I’m always nervous when reading the sequel to a book I loved, because I worry that I might not like it as much as the original. (And how could I recommend a series to anyone without adding the clarification that the books will get worse as the series progresses?) In the case of Jim Morgan, though, I needn’t have worried; I’m more convinced than ever that this is a series to recommend to readers of all ages.

The tone of this book is solemn and wise — Raney truly is a gifted storyteller — but there are bright flashes of humor and tenderness mixed in. You get gems of wisdom like

But boys have rather short memories, especially boys who are nearly thirteen years old and absolutely full of confidence they can do anything.

alongside wonderful silliness like

“…and Lacey’s the damsel in the dress.”
“That would be damsel in distress.”

There’s enough emotion to keep the reader connected to the characters (Jim’s struggles to reconcile reality with his ideal image of his father are moving), but there’s also a ton of magic, action, and adventure. Basically, there’s something for everyone within the pages of this book — well, except a love story. And I’m glad that there isn’t one. Sometimes an adventure is just an adventure, and I’m sick of the hero and heroine having to kiss at the end of the story for no apparent reason. (That’s my biggest complaint about Man of Steel. That kiss had no place in the movie!) Plus, the characters are still a bit young for that sort of thing.

There is a strong undercurrent of friendship flowing beneath all the trials and travels in this book. None of the young adventurers is perfect, what with the Ratt brothers having to be pulled from each other’s throats every five minutes, Lacey’s bossiness, and Jim’s secret keeping, but there is an undeniable, lasting friendship between them that is truly touching. This friendship, along with a focus on Jim’s struggles as a young man figuring out the world without his father to guide him, provide an emotional side to all the swagger and swashbuckling.

Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull is laugh-out-loud funny, sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspenseful, and buy-a-copy-as-a-gift timeless. Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves was the first book that I purchased even though I’d received a free review copy, and I’m planning to order this latest installment as well to add to my son’s collection. He’s one, but I’m already stocking up on bedtime stories and chapter books for when he’s older. There are certain stories I can’t wait to share with him, and this is one of them.



James Matlack Raney grew up all over the world, including Europe, Latin America and Africa. These days, he calls Southern California home, and spends his time writing adventures…and occasionally living a few of his own.

Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull is available for purchase via Amazon.

Follow James Matlack Raney on Twitter and Facebook. Also, be sure to check out James’s blog as well as the official Jim Morgan site!

Blog Tour & Giveaway: Desmond Pucket Makes Monster Magic by Mark Tatulli

AMP - tourgraphicDesmond vertical

 Meet Desmond Pucket – professor of frightology and master of monsters.

Someday Desmond will be famous for his special effects wizardry, but for now he’s just trying to make it through sixth grade at Cloverfield Memorial Junior High, which means he needs to stay one step ahead of the school’s disciplinary officer, Mr. Needles.

The only problem is Desmond just can’t stop pulling pranks – like the time he attached a shrieking rubber goblin to the toilet seat in the teachers’ bathroom. Mrs. Rubin screamed so loudly her wig flew off! Or the time he put giant motorized worms into the mashed potatoes in the cafeteria. Or the time Desmond and his best friend, Ricky, arranged for a three-headed ghost to crash his sister’s slumber party. Rachel still hasn’t forgiven him. 

And now Desmond has to stay prank-free for the rest of the year, or he won’t be able to go on the class trip to Crab Shell Pier, home of the Mountain Full of Monsters ride! It’s going to be tough, but Desmond has to try.

Welcome! I’m pleased to be the penultimate stop on the Desmond Pucket Blog Tour. I’ve got a bit of special content today, followed by my review and a GIVEAWAY! Let’s start with the featured bit: a letter to darling Desmond’s mother from Mr. Bramfield, Cloverfield Memorial Junior High’s drama teacher. In this letter, Mr. Bramfield exhorts Desmond’s mother to encourage her son’s natural talent because he certainly has a flair for the dramatic!


As you may know, free WordPress sites can’t display the Rafflecopter widget, so you’ll need to click below for the giveaway.


Aaand now…


Desmond Pucket’s rap sheet is impressively extensive for a middle schooler: he scares the wig off the chorus teacher, creates a fake body out of which a bloody space creature bursts, and terrifies the living daylights out of his sister’s friends during a slumber party, just to name a few. But Mr. Needles, school administrator, has Desmond under his watchful eye. If Desmond  can’t behave for the rest of the school year, he won’t be able to go on the year-end trip to Crab Shell Pier. And if he doesn’t go to Crab Shell Pier, he won’t get to ride the Mountain Full of Monsters, the scariest, coolest ride of all time! Behaving responsibly doesn’t come easy to Desmond, however, and he finds himself quickly working through the three chances that Mr. Needles has given him. Will he be able to fly under the radar long enough to make his dream come true?

Full disclosure: I am most definitely not this book’s target audience. What target audience is that? you ask. Well, since you asked, late elementary/early middle school boys who enjoy goo and gore and fart jokes will want to read and re-read this book. Once was enough for me, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it for what it is: silly and a lot of fun. Plus, the illustrations are perfect for the book. I’m nitpicky about things like that, but the black and white style, simplistic yet full of action and humor, is excellent. This could become a wildly popular series (if there are future installments, which I’m assuming there will be).

Monday, November 11th:  Buried in Books
Tuesday, November 12th:  Chaos Is a Friend of Mine
Wednesday, November 13th: Laurisa White Reyes 
Thursday, November 14th:  The Official Desmond Pucket Blog
Monday, November 18th:  Geo Librarian
Tuesday, November 19th:   You Can Read Me Anything
Wednesday, November 20th:   Novel Novice

Mark Tatulli is an internationally syndicated cartoonist best known for his popular comic strips Heart of the City, which chronicles a fun-loving, tenacious little girl’s adventures in the big city of Philadelphia, and Lio, which tells the adventures of a young boy and his pet squid. In addition to cartooning, Tatulli is an accomplished filmmaker and animator, and the recipient of three Emmy Awards. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Donna, three children, and three nefarious cats, all of whom supply endless ideas for his books.

 Desmond Pucket can be purchased here as well as followed on Facebook or Twitter.

Don’t judge a book boy by its cover his face: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Alfred A. Knopf. 310 pp.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Alfred A. Knopf. 310 pp.

Houston, we have a problem: I’ve been reading so many good books lately that I want to describe them all as “one of the best books I’ve read.” I’m afraid that if I do that, you won’t take me seriously, because I mean, really: who says that about every book she reads? Someone with a short attention span who raves about everything. But that’s not me. (Okay, maybe the short attention span part is…) I’ve just been fortunate enough to read, say, four amazing books in a row. (Before that: I refused to finish one and dragged my way through a few slow others.)

I first heard about Wonder when Jojo Moyes recommended it on her blog. If you’ve been reading my blog for the past month or two, you know how much I’ve been enjoying Moyes’s stuff lately, and she made this book sound so appealing that I headed to the library specifically to pick it up. 

August Pullman is a shoo-in for my list of Most Memorable Characters of All Time. (I just made that list up, but now I think I’ll have to work on it. Future blog entry!) He is honest and straightforward; he doesn’t hide his pride or his pain. And he makes me want to give him a hug (which he would hate, because ten-year-old boys tend to protest mightily against physical displays of affection unless they involve throwing a ball at someone’s head or something.)

Let me tell you a little bit about Auggie: He was born with a severe facial deformity. Due to years of surgeries and hospitalizations to get his face to function at its best (which is still pretty bad), he’s been homeschooled for his entire life. Now he’s about to go into fifth grade, and his parents want him to give school a shot. Auggie refuses at first, but finally agrees to try.

Wonder follows Auggie through his first year at Beecher Prep. He learns a lot about kids, cruelty, and ultimately, acceptance. But the acceptance takes a lot of time, and I can guarantee you that your heart will break for Auggie over and over again as he struggles through the year. Kids can be horrible to each other, and even though the things that happen in this book are really no surprise, they’re still disappointing. The human race is both inspiring and prone to demolition, and this book provides a healthy serving of each.

The book isn’t told entirely by Auggie, though: there are sections written by Auggie’s friends from school as well as his older sister Via, her friend Miranda, and her boyfriend Justin. The characters are honest in their reactions to Auggie’s face as well as his personality, and overall, it’s a truthful, touching examination of what it means to be — and to be affected by — August Pullman. 

All in all: Everyone should read this book: kids, to understand how bullying affects people; parents, to remember to raise kind children; and the rest of you, to remember just how fortunate you are and how much of a difference a little kindness can make. 

Spotlight on Channing O’Banning and Interview with Author Angela Spady

Today I’m featuring a new series of middle grade novels by Angela Spady. The Channing O’Banning books are engaging and educational, and the protagonist’s name is great fun to say aloud! Before I talk more about how much I enjoyed reading these, I’m pleased to present an interview with author Angela Spady.


Hello, and thank you in advance for your time. I greatly enjoyed the Channing O’Banning books, and it’s a pleasure to be featuring them on my blog.

Having worked with children in an educational capacity, what was the biggest challenge when transitioning to your role as a parent? 

As a parent, it’s sometimes tough to know when to nurture and when to be in “educator mode.”  I’ve worked with the gifted and talented for many years, so I can have the tendency to maybe push a little too much! Thankfully, I have children who enjoy art and are free to express themselves creatively. So I guess you can say it’s a good balance. When I see they’re getting a bit stressed, I can often see that even in their artwork. Communication is key, in any way possible—especially in those tween years!

What sorts of activities did you promote at home to keep your child interested and engaged in the arts?

I try to keep at least three choices of art media (paints, pastels, pencils, ink, clay etc.) available in our “studio area,” which is a large room full of art bins, and lots of light. We’ve always played a game called “I Draw, You Draw,” where basically we take turns creating part of a drawing and will then go back and forth adding our own touch until completion. Not only does it encourage creativity, but it encourages open mindedness and teamwork. My youngest daughter, who actually inspired the series, has attended art camps since the age of 5 and she’s now 17. She’s an incredible artist.

What would you recommend to parents who fear they’ve waited too long to introduce their children to the arts?

It’s NEVER too late to buy a child a sketchbook and allow them to create and express themselves! I still do myself!  Studies show that kids who engage in some type of art activity, are more prone to excel in ALL subject areas because they learn to think differently and see from all angles.. I see that in the classroom all the time. Kids have to be encouraged to think independently and that requires encouragement from the parent AND the teachers. You don’t have to post all of child’s art on the refrigerator, but definitely display something. My kids’ favorite pieces are actually framed for everyone to enjoy. Just because a child may not be the next Picasso, doesn’t mean the child or parents should abandon art activities entirely. From visual arts to performing arts—they’re great outlets for children, both creatively and psychologically.  Trying is the most important part!

The O’Banning family travels to exotic locations that are both educational and lots of fun! What are some of your favorite places to visit and experience other cultures?

Our family loves to travel! I honestly believe it’s the best way to educate a child and show them how parts of the world are different, and yet so interconnected.  Costa Rica is one of my favorite places, due to the birdlife and fauna. We’re all birdwatchers! Channing O’Banning and the Rainforest Rescue is actually inspired by real events. My favorite place on earth is Taos, New Mexico, where I live part time.  Not only is the landscape magical, but it’s rich in Native American history, and is also an amazing art town. Taos and Santa Fe are featured in Channing O’Banning and the Turquoise Trail. Lastly, my daughters’ favorite place is Kyoto, Japan. She even got to talk to a beautiful geisha and have tea with her. She’s now studying Japanese as a result of that trip!

One of my favorite things about these books is that you never trivialize Channing’s problems. In fourth grade, everything is a huge deal, from a slight on the playground to a friend’s distracting crush. Care to share an anecdote from your own childhood that seemed like the end of the world at the time?

That’s a good one! I remember my first crush like it was yesterday. Isn’t that amazing? I’m sure most parents remember theirs as well. The fact that we still remember it should tell us how it affected us emotionally. I’ll never forget that I got into trouble for sending a boy a note during class. Because he accepted the note, we both had to stay in at recess. I was in fourth grade and totally embarrassed, fearing my teacher would read the note out loud. Thankfully she was merciful! I’ve always tried to respect my kids privacy to a point, and to put myself in their shoes.  Having our children know that we trust them is a HUGE thing.

What are some of your favorite children’s stories?

Hands down, my favorite book that’s also my children’s favorite, is Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. I think we have three copies, as I bought one for each of my daughters to give to their own kids someday. I have no doubt that it inspired them artistically at a young age.  The Mitten by Alvin Tresselt and Yaroslava was written in 1964 and still one the most beautiful children’s stories I’ve ever read.

If you could say one thing to today’s teachers, what would it be?

That’s an easy one: LET EACH CHILD BE UNIQUE!  Just because you don’t understand a child’s artwork doesn’t mean that it’s not art. And giving them a coloring sheet isn’t art either. Let them THINK.  The best way I know to explain this is through an experience my daughter had in third grade. Unfortunately they only had art once a week, much to my daughter’s disappointment.  One day, the teacher sat a stuffed animal that was a cat, on her desk and told everyone to draw it the same way. My daughter was crushed that she couldn’t draw it the way she wanted. She came home extremely upset and drew about 10 cats on 10 sheets of paper, making each one different from the other. I loved it but also had a loooong talk with that teacher. Needless to say, there were no more stuffed cats that year, but an amazing menagerie of unique and beautiful creatures…


Inspired by her own daughter who is an accomplished teen artist, the series is sought after by teachers and parents, and anticipated by curious young artists who have been searching for a character like Channing O’Banning. Spady has two graduate degrees in Educational Leadership, certified in Gifted Education and is the founder of the Art and Cultural Enrichment program (ACE) at the June Buchanan School.

Currently an Arts and Humanities instructor at the June Buchanan School, as well as Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors at the Artisan Center of Kentucky, Spady has been featured on/in KY Teacher Magazine, WYMT-TV, and PBS. She enjoys traveling around the world with her family and currently splits her time between Southern Kentucky and Taos, NM.


I’d like to move on and talk about these wonderful books, but first you should know a bit about me and my household. I taught dance for fourteen years; in fact, my husband and I met when we were instructors at a ballroom dance studio. Before deciding to be a stay at home mom, I taught high school English, and my husband now teaches at a school for the performing arts. So, in addition to having educational backgrounds, we’re huge proponents of the arts — and especially of incorporating the arts into education. Angela Spady has written a series that includes everyone: students, parents, and teachers alike. Her books show that it takes cooperation between all parties to best encourage learning and artistic expression.

Turq. Trail cov finish copy

Okay, now onto Channing: Channing O’Banning is a classic heroine: feisty, passionate, and full of joie de vivre. She’s not perfect, of course: she bickers with her older sister, often displays a lack of interest in academics, and struggles to maintain positive relationships with her friends. But through it all, she learns and grows. This is the kind of character you want your kids to read: one that they can relate to, but also one that they can learn lessons alongside.

In each book, Channing’s family takes a trip to a location that’s related to a unit she is learning about in school. They see the sights, talk to natives, and try new foods, and everyone’s horizons are broadened as a result. This kind of travel teaches our children that the world is a much bigger place than their own backyards, and it also teaches acceptance and appreciation of other cultures. I hope to have the opportunity to expose my son to other places, other ways of life. Travel has widened my life in ways I’d never expected, and I want him to have that same gift.

I also loved the idea of hands-on education that is promoted in this series; although I’ve always been a bookish sort of girl, not everyone learns best by reading and taking notes. My husband is a very kinesthetic learner; he needs to “do” in order for something to really sink in. And how better to keep students interested than by making the lessons come alive? Channing’s teachers bring in visuals and assign various projects to students with different interests and abilities (for example, with Channing’s penchant for art, she is asked to create a poster about a Native American tribe). This is something that educators can learn from: when students are more invested in the learning process, they are more likely to remember the things that they learn.

And these books are fun, and silly, as well. I would have loved them as a young girl because they are realistic, funny, and educational all at once. This is a great new series for kids, and I would encourage parents to read them, too. Reading a book and discussing it with your child shows that you’re taking an active interest in their interests, but in the case of these books, it also allows you to supplement your child’s learning. For example, after reading Channing O’Banning and the Rainforest Rescue, why not find a recipe for Costa Rican cuisine or pick up a tropical fruit from the supermarket? After Channing O’Banning and the Turquoise Trail, perhaps arrange a visit to a museum that features Native American art and artifacts and then encourage your children to create their own artwork based on what they’ve seen? There are so many ways for a family to learn and grow together, and Angela Spady’s support for this is evident in her work.

All in all, these books are a great pick for everyone involved in the education process: students, teachers, and parents. It’s wonderful to find something that works on so many levels. Thanks to Angela for her time and thoughtful words, and thanks to Marissa from Smith Publicity for facilitating this exchange.

Follow Angela Spady on Twitter: @angelaspady

Check out the Channing O’Banning website, full of activities for kids and adults alike! This site features cross-curricular activities to use in the classroom, but they can also be used by ambitious parents looking for educational activities to engage in with their kids. It also includes information about each volume in the series and some adorable coloring pages.