Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

“When someone tells you your little brother might die, you’re quick to agree to anything. You give up after-school activities because no one can take you to practice. You start eating kale chips instead of regular sour cream ‘n’ onion because your mom says kale is rich in antioxidants, which means healthy. You even agree to move across the country, if that’s what it takes. That’s how I ended up in New York City.”

It’s really difficult for Thyme to leave her best friend and her grandmother back home in San Diego, California! New York City isn’t the easiest place to get around. She isn’t used to taking a subway to get to school! And she doesn’t want any of the people at her new school to know about her sick little brother, Val.

Plus, her parents are so concerned about the drug trials for her brother that she feels like no one cares much about her! Slowly Thyme begins to meet some kids her age, and she even begins to care about the grumpy neighbor down the hall from their apartment.

This is Melanie Conklin’s first book, and she did a great job of capturing the struggles of middle school with humor and heart! It’s a good book for boys and girls!

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Wonder by R.J. Palacio

“I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid….I feel ordinary. Inside. But I know ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. I know ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.”

So begins this fascinating book about a kid with a facial deformity so severe that he says: “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

August Pullman’s deformity has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. He has been homeschooled until 5th grade. Now, his parents think it would be good for him to go to Beecher Prep School. They have talked to the principal and made arrangements for Auggie to meet with Mr. Tushman and some students from the school.

Being a new kid is hard for anyone! Try to imagine how hard it will be for Auggie!

The format of this book is that different characters tell their part of the story. It begins with Auggie and goes on to highlight his sister, and a number of students he meets at the school. Each person adds his or her perspective to the events happening at the time.

My granddaughter, Bethany, and I both thought this was a “wonderful” book! It made you think about how tough it is for some people in this world. Through no fault of anyone’s—Auggis must travel a really difficult road! But, when people made an effort to know the person behind the “face”, they discovered a delightful, smart, good friend! Highly recommend this book for girls and boys!

A Million Ways Home by Dianna Dorisi Winget

“But then a second boom sounded,loud enough to make my chest vibrate, and I was suddenly thinking gunshot and not fireworks.”

Poppy Parker’s life is a tough one now that her grandma had a stroke and is in a nursing home. Poppy has to be in an orphanage, and she hates it! She decides to run away to see her grandma. She stops at a convenience store to buy herself a candy bar. Poppy is outside in the parking lot when she hears the sound that she finally realizes is a gunshot. Then it gets even worse—the man runs over to her and asks her what her name is! And she gives it to him! Just then the police come, and the man runs away!

But, Poppy can recognize the criminal! Now she’s in danger! This man could come after her! Detective Trey Brannigan takes her under his wing and takes her home to stay with his mother in a kind of witness protection program.

This is a really good book that includes a beautiful German shepherd who is set to be put down. Poppy wants to save Gunner and a misfit girl named Lizzie. It is a very warmhearted story! Boys and girls will like this book!

“The Fourteenth Goldfish” by Jennifer L. Holm

“He gives an exasperated sigh. “It should be pretty obvious. I engineered a way to reverse senescence through cellular regeneration.” I stare at him. “In layman’s terms: I have discovered the fountain of youth!”

Ellie is a sixth grader who lives with her divorced mom. Her parents are both in theater, but Ellie doesn’t share their interest in drama. Ellie isn’t a big fan of change. She misses fifth grade and all the time she spent with her best friend, Brianna. Now, Brianna is on the volleyball team, and she doesn’t have time to spend with Ellie.

Then her grandfather comes to live with them, but can it really be him? He looks like thirteen, maybe fourteen years old. He has long hair, but his clothes look like something an old man would wear! Ellie can’t believe her eyes until she sees his college school ring! It is her grandpa!

Grandpa Melvin becomes Ellie’s classmate as well as babysitter. Grandpa has two PhD’s in science. But, now he’s a student in middle school. As you can imagine, interesting things happen. Grandpa has been banned from his lab, so he hires Raj, a classmate of Ellie’s to try to get his special jellyfish project out of the lab. With his amazing discovery, he feels like a Nobel Prize might be in the offing!

Jennifer Holm grew up in a scientific family, and her knowledge makes her the perfect writer of a story about life and death and immortality! This book shares information about a number of famous scientists and also tells about some of the “not so good” experiments from the past.

This story has humor and inspiration! But, it also leaves you with the question: Can Science go too far?

The Thanksgiving Treasure by Gail Rock

“…because I had heard the story of Dad’s feud with Rehnquist more than once around home.  He was considered an archenemy of my family.  He had once hired my father to dig a pond in his far pasture.  My father went with his backhoe machine to do the job, and after it was finished, Rehnquist had only paid for half the job because the pond leaked.  My dad said it leaked because Rehnquist had insisted it be dug in the wrong place, and Rehnquist said it leaked because my father had done a bad job.”

Addie lives with her father and her grandmother in Nebraska during the 1940’s.  This is a delightful story about what happens  when Addie and her best friend, Carla Mae decide to follow their teacher’s advice about sharing Thanksgiving dinner with their enemy, Mr. Rehnquist.

The girls’ first encounter with the old man happens when they are out finding cattails and other natural items to make an artistic arrangement for their sixth grade teacher, Miss Thompson.  As they were out in the country, they got closer and closer to Mr. Rehnquist’s land.  The girls were scared of him, but to quote Addie, “I knew we shouldn’t be there, but my curiosity had been aroused, and I wasn’t going to be deterred by the mere threat of a horrible death.”

Addie has always wanted to have a horse, so when she sees a beautiful horse in Mr. Rehnquist’s pasture, she and Carla can’t resist going closer.  Mr. Rehnquist comes out toward them leveling his gun!

What happens is a beautiful story of how a brave girl’s persistence in befriending a crotchety old man turns into lesson for us all!!

This is a fairly old book, copyright 1974, but the message is still important.  Another book about Addie is “The House Without a Christmas Tree”.  It’s a good read, too.

Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

“I clearly hear four words:  There’s been an accident.  And after that in whispers comes the news that the two people I love the most in the world are gone forever.”

Despite this sad beginning, this is truly a book about how seemingly unrelated people can come together to create a family!  The characters are a diverse as can be!  We have Willow, an adopted 12-year-old non-white genius.  Mai and Quang-ha Nguyen who have an African-American grandfather, a Vietnamese grandmother, and a Mexican father meet Willow at the office of a very disfunctional school counselor named Dell Duke.  Then we have Pattie, mother of Mai and Quang-ha who agrees to let Willow come to live in their tiny garage despite the fact that she never met her before!  And one more character:  the Mexicano Taxi driver, Jairo Hernandez!

Sounds crazy, but this is a book that is hard to put down!  It has humor and sadness and flawed people, but the author does a great job of weaving a delightful story!

This a book about people who don’t fit in.  It’s a book about how people can get lost in a system, especially if they aren’t wealthy or influential!  And it is a book about what can happen when there is caring and determination!  My middle school book club kids loved this book!

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

“Timothy was much worse.  His eyes looked wild and strange from the fever; he trembled continuously, and each breath he took sounded like a gasp for life.”

This book is a delightful fantasy about a widowed mouse, Mrs. Frisby, and her four small children who live in the garden of Farmer Fitzgibbon.  The problem is that soon Mr. Fitzgibbon will plow up the garden, and Timothy, the smallest mouse, is too sick to move to the summer quarters.

After Mrs. Frisby saves a young crow from Dragon, the cat, Jeremy tells her to go to the owl for advice on how to solve this dilemma.  Bravely, she does just that, and the owl tells her to, “Go to the rats!”

When she courageously enters the rats entrance in the rosebush, she meets the biggest rat she has ever seen!  Brutus won’t let her go into the rats’ tunnel!  What should she do?  She is helped when Mr. Ages, a white mouse, comes to the rats’ home.  He takes her to meet Nicodemus and some of the other rats

The amazing story she hears from the rats includes some revelations about Mr. Frisby that are new to her.  And the rats have a plan to help her, but it’s not without danger!

My students always loved this book when I read it too them.  Jill always liked this story as a middle schooler!  Boys and girls will enjoy it!  There are several sequels which continue the story including:  Racso and the Rats of NIMH, and R-T, Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH.  These books are written by Jane Leslie Conly who is Robert C. O’Brien’s daughter.