Juvenile

THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angleberger

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This book is a casefile compiled by sixth grader, Tommy, as he struggles to figure out the truth:  does Origami Yoda have magical powers?  Dwight, who created Origami Yoda and wears him on his finger, is the weirdest kid in school, and it seems like he never does anything right.  So how is it possible that when Dwight is speaking as Origami Yoda, he gives the best possible advice and even sees into the future?  It is vitally important to determine whether or not Origami Yoda is really magic or just a hoax, because Tommy needs to decide whether to take Origami Yoda’s latest advice in a matter of life-changing proportion.

This book is incredibly funny and great for upper elementary and middle school students; it is especially popular among boys.  It includes instructions for creating your own personal Origami Yoda (magic powers not included).

If you liked The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, you might also be interested in How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida CowellDiary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, and the Big Nate books by Lincoln Peirce.

THE GOLLYWHOPPER GAMES by Jody Feldman

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Gil Goodson has had a very difficult year.  Since his father was accused of embezzling money from his employer, the Gollywhopper toy corporation, no one has treated his family the same way.  Even though his father was found not guilty, all of Gil’s friends believe that he did it and have forced Gil out of their social circles and off of his sports teams.  But now, one year later, Gil has the chance to escape it all.  Gollywhopper is hosting a huge scholarship competition called the Gollywhopper Games.  If Gil wins the games, his family could afford to move to a new city and leave The Incident behind them.  Much to the dismay of the Gollywhopper CEO, Gil is determined to solve every puzzle they throw at him.  But personality differences among his teammates make the task much more difficult than he had previously anticipated.

If you like brainteasers, solving puzzles, and unraveling mysteries, this is a very fun book!  It is aimed at an upper-elementary school audience.

GREGOR THE OVERLANDER by Suzanne Collins

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If you are one of those people who believes that there must be a colony of gargantuan rats and cockroaches living under the streets of New York City, consider your paranoid fears vindicated. When Gregor’s baby sister crawls into an air vent in the basement of their apartment building, he follows her down a long dark chute and into the Underland.  Fortunately, they are found by the friendly giant cockroaches and not the malicious six-foot-tall rats.  The cockroaches bring them to the city of the Underland humans.  There, Gregor learns that his father who disappeared two years earlier fell down the same chute and ended up prisoner of the rats.  He also learns that he himself may be the warrior hero mentioned in an ancient Underland prophecy.  Together with the snobby young Underlander queen and her insufferable cousin, two loyal bats, two kind cockroaches, and the snarky, bitter traitor rat, Ripred, Gregor and his baby sister set off on a quest to save the Underland human race from destruction.

This is definitely one of my favorite children’s fantasy series.  The overall tone of the book is somewhat dark but also incredibly humorous.  Collins also uses the series to challenge some of the notions of right vs. wrong and heroism vs. barbarism that are often taken for granted in heroic fantasy literature.  And she is simply an excellent writer.  If you enjoyed the Harry Potter series, the Percy Jackson series, or Suzanne Collins’ other series, The Hunger Games, you should check out this book!   There are four subsequent books in the series:  Gregor and the Prophecy of the Bane, Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, and Gregor and the Code of Claw.  Personally, I think they get even better, the farther you get into the series!

THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY by Adam Rex

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What is the true meaning of Smekday–the day formerly known as Christmas, the day that the Boovish aliens arrived to colonize Earth, and the day the Boov left one year later?  This is the essay question that Gratuity “Tip” Tucci must answer.  The winning essay will be put in a time capsule that will be opened in 100 years. In her three attempts at writing the essay, Tip gradually reveals the story of the Boov’s arrival and the events that followed.

While trying to reach the human reservation in Florida by car, Tip and her cat, Pig, met up with a Boov criminal, who has taken as his Earth name J.Lo. (a name that he believes is a popular Earth name due to its frequent appearance in media publications).  Together they travel across the country searching for Tip’s mom, who was abducted toward the beginning of the invasion. Then Tip, J.Lo, and Pig join forces with a gang of boys who have been hiding in a secret tunnel system under Disney World, and together, they drive the Gorg (another set of invading aliens–much more evil than the Boov) out of Earth.  Throughout her story, Tip includes illustrations and pages of comics drawn by J.Lo who can’t write in English.

This book is both hilarious and poignant, a nice blend of hard- and soft-science fiction, approaching issues of race and prejudice through the blunt, sarcastic, witty voice of 11 yr. old Tip.  The book is written for an upper elementary/middle school reading level.  It is one of my all-time favorites.

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart

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Reynie Muldoon is incredibly gifted at solving puzzles and logic games. Kate Weatherall is incredibly resourceful with the items she carries around in her beloved bucket; she can create almost anything. Sticky Washington can read at lightning speed and remembers everything he has ever read, heard, or seen. And Constance Contraire. . .well, Constance is stubborn. And for reasons that will not become clear until the very end of the book, Mr. Benedict insists that she is far more brilliant than the other children realize.

Mr. Benedict gathers this group of brilliant children together to form a team of secret agents who will infiltrate an institution for gifted children that is really a front for a madman’s secret plans for world domination. Although the implications of the madman’s plot are quite dark, the brain teasers and vibrant characters keep the tone of the book light.  The book is intended for a 4th-6th grade audience, but anyone who loves puzzles and codes and a bit of science fiction and mystery will enjoy it.  The Mysterious Benedict Society is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma.