Middle Grade Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.


THIS BOOK!!! WOW!!! I mean, what can I even say?, it won every award there is pretty much, and deserved it. It’s just so fabulous.

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Middle Grade Review: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 1
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆⋆

In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon. Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense. But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune. She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.


Wow. I don’t even know what else to say about this book other than that it’s amazing and perfect and should be in every classroom, school, and child’s library. I mean, just, WOW.

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Middle Grade Review: The Strangers

The Strangers by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Series: The Greystone Secrets
Genre: Middle Grade, Science Fiction-ish
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆

The Greystone kids thought they knew. Chess has always been the protector over his younger siblings, Emma loves math, and Finn does what Finn does best—acting silly and being adored. They’ve been a happy family, just the three of them and their mom.

But everything changes when reports of three kidnapped children—who share the same first and middle names, ages, and exact birth dates as the Greystone kids—reach the Greystone family. This bizarre coincidence makes them wonder: Who exactly are these strangers? Before Chess, Emma, and Finn can question their mom about it, she takes off on a mysterious work trip. But puzzling clues left behind lead to complex codes, hidden rooms, and a dangerous secret that will turn their world upside down.


I don’t know that I enjoyed this book at all, and I’m not really even sure why? It’s a really difficult book to talk about or explain, so sorry if this review is vague.

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Classic Remarks: Laura Ingles Wilder in School

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie has been criticized for its depiction of Native Americans as “primitive.” Should students continue to read this book in school?

I want to start by saying that, as a teacher-librarian, I think kids would better served reading fewer classics and more books they are going to be able to relate to and without old-fashioned language to decode. I don’t want to throw the classics out, but for elementary schoolers there’s not really a reason to read Little House in the Big Wood AND Sarah Plain and Tall AND Charlotte’s Web. If there’s nothing in your curriculum for kids under the age of 13 written since 2010, in my opinion your curriculum needs to be adjusted.

There’s a lot of reasons for this that aren’t the point of this post, but I’ll summarize by saying that the major points of doing a novel study in elementary school are 1) improving kids’ reading level by challenging them without challenging them so much they can’t get it, 2) teaching them to love reading, and 3) make connections with literary elements they’re learning about and see them in the wild. If the book has antique language, that can be an added element of difficulty that can prevent them from enjoying and understanding a book, which interferes with all three goals. AND if they aren’t being presented with books they love, kids won’t learn to love reading. It’s not that kids won’t love classics, but they may be able to connect more with some of the FANTSTIC kids’ lit being written today.

I also want to preface by saying that I loved the Little House books, especially the later novels, as a young person and read them more than once. While I now understand that it’s a pretty ethnocentric look at the past, I credit Wilder with starting my interest in Historical Fiction and history in general.

Moving on to the discussion.

No, there’s not a reason for teachers to be teaching Laura Ingles Wilder in 2020. While I don’t necessarily have *as* big of a problem with Little House in the Big Woods, and can understand why teachers would use it as an example of Historical Fiction, I think the problems with the series don’t outweigh the benefits of an actual first-person account of pioneer life.

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Middle Grade Review: Stay

Stay by Bobbie Pyron

Genres: Middle Grade, Fiction
Maturity Level: 3-
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Piper’s life is turned upside down when her family moves into a shelter in a whole new city. She misses her house, her friends, and her privacy—and she hates being labeled the homeless girl at her new school. But while the shelter, Hope House, offers her new challenges, it also brings new friendships, like the girls in Firefly Girls Troop 423 and a sweet street dog named Baby. So when Baby’s person goes missing, Piper knows she has to help. But helping means finding the courage to trust herself and her new friends, no matter what anyone says about them—before Baby gets taken away for good.


Wow, talk about a book that was designed with every possible mechanism to make adult readers cry. Poverty and homelessness, mental illness, a dog, girls working together for the better of people other than themselves, seeing the best in life. It would be a bald-faced lie to say I didn’t boo-hoo my way through this book.

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Classic Remarks: Contemporary Classic

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: What is a contemporary book you think might become a classic?  Or should become a classic? This is a difficult question for me because I don’t read a lot of literary fiction which is, in my experience, what is most likely to be taken seriously. Even within genre fiction I’m not super likely to read the critically acclaimed literature as much as I am to read the fun literature.

But perhaps I have a bit firmer of a grasp on what is going to be remembered in children’s literature and YA. While kids lit has a firm set of books that are by and large considerd “classics”, YA is so new that other than The Outsiders it doesn’t. But since there is so much content written for teens now, I think it’s inevitable that these lists start coming out.

When thinking about what would be included in a list of YA classics, it’s impossible to believe that the list would not include something by John Green. He has been consistently producing work that has received critical acclaim for long enough to be, well, influential. The only question would be, which book? Looking for Alaska is the most widely used in schools, while The Fault in Our Stars is easily the most popular of his books. In my opinion Paper Towns has the most to say about what it means to be human. I think ultimately Looking for Alaska’s consistent use by teachers and frequent bannings (which keep it on the librarians’ radar) will land this book in the YA cannon as that begins to develop.

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Middle Grade Review: Rocket to the Moon!

Rocket to the Moon! by Don Brown

Series: Big Ideas that Changed the World
Genres: Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Graphic Novel
Maturity Level: 1
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” when the Apollo 11 landed on the moon. But it wasn’t just one man who got us to the moon. Rocket to the Moon! explores the people and technology that made the moon landing possible. Instead of examining one person’s life, it focuses on the moon landing itself, showing the events leading up to it and how it changed the world. The book takes readers through the history of rocket building: from ancient Chinese rockets, to “bombs bursting in air” during the War of 1812, to Russia’s Sputnik program, to the moon landing.


For kids who enjoyed learning about science from The Magic School Bus, learning about history from Big Ideas might be a great fit. But ultimately I found that graphic novel was maybe not the best medium for a non-fiction title.

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Classic Remarks – The Ending of The Giver

This week Krysta and Briana at Pages Unbound are hosting the discussion: How did you interpret the ending of Lois Lowry’s The Giver? I think it’s only fair to say before I start that I read this book as a novel study with my fifth grade (?) class, and we discussed this at length with the teacher, so my answer might be her answer…

I should also state that I have not read ANY of the sequels, and I have no idea what happens in them or what they are about or who the characters are, and it’s definitely possible that reading those books would change my interpretation.

In case you’ve forgotten, at the end of The Giver the protagonist, Jonas, kidnaps his adopted brother, Gabe, in order to prevent him from being “released”. They travel for days and days, and eventually the weather gets cold. They go on into the snow until Jonas finds a sled at the top of the hill, and they sled into a Christmas village where someone is waiting for them.

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Review: Caterpillar Summer

Caterpillar Summer by Gillian McDunn

Genre: Middle Grade
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Cat and her brother Chicken have always had a very special bond–Cat is one of the few people who can keep Chicken happy. When he has a “meltdown” she’s the one who scratches his back and reads his favorite story. She’s the one who knows what Chicken needs. Since their mom has had to work double-hard to keep their family afloat after their father passed away, Cat has been the glue holding her family together.

But even the strongest glue sometimes struggles to hold. When a summer trip doesn’t go according to plan, Cat and Chicken end up spending three weeks with grandparents they never knew. For the first time in years, Cat has the opportunity to be a kid again, and the journey she takes shows that even the most broken or strained relationships can be healed if people take the time to walk in one another’s shoes.


This book hit me right in the feels. As a daughter, as a mother, as a sister, I related to this book in so many ways and on so many levels. It was gut wrenching but heart warming.

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Middle Grade Review: Shadow Weaver

Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly

Series: Shadow Weaver
Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Maturity Level: 1
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆

Emmeline’s gift of controlling shadows has isolated her from the rest of the world, but she’s grown to be content, hidden away in her mansion with Dar, her own shadow, as her only company.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.


Having made my way through the other Texas Bluebonnet nominees for 2019-2020, I’m just not sure how this book made the list. It was fine, but there are so many better middle-grade fantasies out there with more nuance and depth. Nor was this book exciting enough that you could categorize it as a “fun” read.

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