The House in the Cerulean Sea

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune is a feel good fantasy for a wide range of readers.

Linus Baker works hard and follows the rules. He is forty, lives alone with his cat and is comfortable in his routine. As a Case Worker for The Department of Magical Youth, Linus is often sent out to various orphanages to assess and judge the well-being of the children. When “extremely upper management” send him on a “classified level 4” assignment, Linus isn’t sure they picked the right man for the job.

Marsyas Island Orphanage, is home to six dangerous children: “a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist.” Never one for bravery, Linus must put aside his fear and judge for himself if the children and the orphanage they call home is safe.

But there is more to the island than these children, a charming and enigmatic caregiver/teacher and a surprising caretaker may just baffle Linus more than the children. Can Linus stay objection? Should he?

I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful story about magical orphans and an unsuspecting savior. But now that I am reviewing this book, I honestly do not know who is the intended audience. It was an electronic book, so I didn’t really look at what “shelf” I got it off of; I just assumed by the color and description it was juvenile or tween. When I was listening to it, I was like “wow a juvenile book narrated by an adult, that’s unique.” Although, is it a juvenile fiction book? Now I am not really sure. I do, however, think it would be a wonderful audio book for a car ride or as a read aloud for younger readers and, content-wise, appropriate for a wide range of readers.

I love Linus’ relationship with each of the children and caregivers. It is really neat to see how he grows throughout the book; he becomes more colorful–gray and dull in the beginning but brighter and more openminded by the end.

There’s also a political commentary going on in this book about “second class citizenship” and equal rights, as well as the state of government run facilities. Whether intended or not, it would make for an interesting discussion.

Overall, I was enchanted by this book and immediately thought of it for a friend of mine who likes to read aloud to her two boys. This one gets 5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

Flunked

Flunked by Jen Calonita is a juvenile fiction book, great for 5th graders.

Imagine a fantasy world where villains’ are the ones teaching children how to be good. Well that is just what happens at the Fairy Tale Reform School.

Fairy Tale Reform School is a boarding school for children who show evil tendencies. History is taught by the Big Bad Wolf, the Evil Queen does therapy sessions, Ursula teaches etiquette classes… oh and the headmistress is Cinderella’s evil step mother. Nothing can go wrong here right?

Gilly doesn’t consider herself wicked, at least she doesn’t think she is. But she is a thief. Gilly, her mom, dad and several brothers and sisters live in a shoe and are hardly making ends meat. So she steals from the royals occasionally to get by… they can afford it anyway, right?

Eventually, Gilly gets caught and is send to Fairy Tale Reform School. But who will take care of her family while she is gone? And are these villains’ really reformed criminals or is there something else at work?

This is one I often recommend for 4-5 graders, so I figured I really should read it myself. And it was really good. This is a perfect book for kids who like a little bit of fantasy, a little bit of humor, some action and a good twisted fairy tale.

I love when a series builds a little band of “heroes” who are going to investigate some shady doings in order to save the day. And Gilly, Jax and the rest of her friends are just the right amount of delinquent and good at heart.

Overall, I think this book will appeal to boys and girls 4-6th grade and would be great for readers who like “Land of Stories,” “Whatever After,” and Disney’s “Descendants.” It’ll be interesting to see where the series goes.

This one gets 4.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

4-6th Grade Book Discussion: Masterminds

Masterminds by Gordon Korman

Eli Frieden has never even stepped outside of his hometown Serenity, New Mexico… but when you live in a town that is perfect in every way, why would you want to. At least that is what he’s been raised to believe, until one day he bikes to the edge of town and everything changes.

Now Eli is questioning everything that make Serenity what it is, even his own father might be in on it… but in on what? Together he and his friends work together to uncover what secrets a town without secrets is really hiding. And what they found out, will shift the way they think about their world forever.

Once the truth is out, will anything ever be the same?

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?
  2. Eli and his friends live in the “perfect” town. What makes Serenity perfect?
  3. In the beginning of the novel, Hector says that he knows his parents care for him, even if they don’t show it, because he heard them say that he was “valuable.” Think about the difference between value and love. Is to be valued enough?
  4. As Eli and his friends start to realize something is wrong in Serenity, the first thing they discover is that their internet, books and basic information is being censored. What is censorship and how would you feel if your internet was censored?
  5. Once the kids realize that they are test subjects and that the town was build for them, the realize that they are being put under “tests of character.” What is this and how would this make you feel?
  6. The big reveal is that the kids find out they are actually clones of criminal masterminds. How would you feel about being a clone and a clone of a criminal at that?
  7. Each of the kids show strengths in an area that might be connected to their criminal genes? What are some examples of this?
  8. One theme in this book is nature vs nurture—is it our genes that tell us who we will be or is it the way we are raised. Let’s discuss this. What do you think?
  9. Each of the kids feel differently when they find out that their parents are in on Serenity’s secret. Can you understand each of their reactions? How would you feel?
  10. Where do you think the story is heading? Will the kids run or will they seek revenge or to out the whole experiment?

STEM Activity: Erupting Lemon

Supplies:  Lemons (grab a few!); Baking Soda; Food Coloring; Dawn Dish Soap; Plate, Tray, or Bowl;

Craft Sticks

How To:

  1. Cut one of your lemons in half and place it in a bowl or on a plate with a lip to catch any juices.
  2. Juice the other half of the lemon and put the juice to the side.
  3. Take your craft stick and poke holes in the various sections of the lemon half. This will help spur the reaction along.
  4. If you want to have fun visualizing the reaction, put a few drops of different color food coloring on the sections.
  5. Pour a small amount of dawn dish soap over the lemon to add a fun bubble effect. Have a spare lemon? Try the experiment without the soap and see what the difference is.
  6. Now sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda onto the top of the lemon. To help get the reaction going, you can use your craft stick to push the baking soda down into the sections of the lemon. You can also add some of your lemon juice if you want.
  7. Watch what happens. Be patient, the reaction is a slow one.
  8. What other citrus fruit can you use? Do you think the reactions would be the same? Bigger or smaller?

The Science:

Why did the lemon erupt? Because of a chemical reaction between the critic acid from the lemon juice is reacting to the base of the baking soda creating a gas called carbon dioxide. The dawn dish soap is reacting to the fizz of the carbon dioxide to create bubbles and make the reaction a bit more visible.

Sources:

https://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/erupting-lemon-volcano-chemistry/

How’d it go:
I’m actually on maternity leave now, so one of my colleagues is running the book club for me for the next few months. So I am just going to leave this here. I am sure it went great!

That’s all for now!

-M-

Bloom

Bloom by Kevin Oppel is a science fiction thriller/action novel for mature 5th to 7th graders.

It all started with the rain. It rained everywhere on Earth at the same time and the rain carried seeds–seeds that sprouted overnight. From these seeds grew razor sharp grass, toxic Venus flytrap like pit plants with vines that seem to move and strange water lilies with bullet shaped seeds. These new plants have taken over, choking out animals and plants alike, but they aren’t stopping there…

On a small island in Canada, three kids, Seth, Petra and Anaya, seem to be immune to the plants and their insidious toxins. But more than that, the severe allergies they’ve lived with all their lives are suddenly gone and they feel stronger than ever. Could something inside them be the key to beating back these plants before the damage becomes irreversible? Or will these strange invaders take over everything?

I picked up this book hoping it might make a good book club read and it totally would but probably not for the younger of my 4-6th grade crew. Bloom doesn’t hold back when it comes to acid spitting pit plants devouring gym teachers or when sentient vines strangle people in their sleep. So I’d probably recommend this one for a mature 5th grade plus.

That being said, I found this book super interesting and I was sucked right in. You’re not sure from the beginning if we are dealing with aliens or terrorists or just evolution and you get a lot of plant facts, which is always nice to get a little STEM thrown in to juvenile fiction.

This book is suspenseful and has a touch of horror and a ton of action. I think it’ll appeal to that tween/pre-teen audience, especially for those kids looking for a little bit of a darker read. I, for one, can’t wait to pick up the second one in the series. This one gets a high 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-

The Very, Very Far North

The Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el is a juvenile fiction book, probably ranging from 3-5th grade.

In the very, very far North lives a polar bear named Duane. Duane is a curious polar bear who loves the cold, cold ocean, exploring his surroundings and making new friends.

What follows is an account of Duane’s explorations and the interesting friends he makes. Written in linear but somewhat episodic chapters, is Duane’s story.

This was an interesting read, with an interesting narrative, which is one of the reasons I picked it up in the first place. It has an almost realistic fiction feel to it, but with personified animals as the main characters with very human traits.

One of the things I am not completely sure about, is who exactly the audience is intended for. Amazon gives it a 3-5th grade range, which rings true to me but I don’t know how much interest this book would hold for older readers and the younger range may have issues with the vocabulary/narrative. I actually think this book would be best as a read-aloud for caregivers to read with the kids. In fact, the narrator all but suggests it at one point in the story.

An odd, yet charming little book. This one gets 4 stars from me.

That’s all for now!

-M-