Monthly Archives: January 2015

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

by Judy Blume
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Somehow, I don’t think I ever read this one as a kid. It’s a good one to have in your back pocket, though. I read it recently for our 2nd and 3rd grade book club, and recommended it yesterday to a parent of two boys as a read-aloud. The only thing that caught my eye was when Peter explains why he’s not supposed to talk to strangers on the way to the park (by himself, in New York City in the 1970s). I was concerned that kids might ask their parents what dope was, but my boss (who I help with the book club) felt that it was very quick and ultimately a good message. Also, Blume’s books are all very popular still and we’ve never gotten any complaints before. None of the kids asked about that, though they did pick up on the unfairness of being Peter but said they liked Fudge better, even the older siblings!

Double Review: Magic Half and Magic in the Mix


by Annie Barrows
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I’m always intrigued by twins (as are many people), and the first story features two sets of twins, with Miri in the middle, all alone – until she discovers that her house is magic and sends her back to 1935! She has to figure out how to get back to her present and why she’s in 1935 to begin with – because, as the old woman in the house tells her, magic wants you to fix something.

The second story features Miri and her new best friend, Molly, who again get sent back in time. Again, the magic in the house has been activated in order to set something right, and the girls have to figure out how to do it. This time, they’re sent back to the Civil War, and their initial thoughts about what needs fixing turns out to be untrue.

I liked that the girls were able to affect history and also that they could remember both versions of the past, even when everyone around them only remembered the new version. I also liked that they were able to travel back and forth in time, once they figured out how it worked. The older twin brothers got in the action in the second book, and it will be interesting to see if there are other books and the other set of twins (or even their parents!) gets involved. In general, totally delightful, if a bit suspenseful! Barrows writes a good cliffhanger and I read much later than I meant to several nights!

The Hug Machine

by Scott Campbell
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

I was confused from the get-go on this one. Is the mailbox-type thing on the cover actually a Hug Machine? (Turns out, no – it’s actually a mailbox and the boy doing the hugging is the Hug Machine.) Some of the rhymes seemed forced, and this particular line rankled: “My hugs calm people down. They cheer them up. They make them go completely nuts!” In addition to the rhyme being forced, the picture with it shows absolutely no one going completely nuts. However, the concept of a little boy hugging everything in sight is pretty cute.

Platypus Police Squad: The Frog Who Croaked

by Jarrett Krosoczka
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

A high school teacher goes missing and there is rampant illegal fish-selling in the school and in the city – what’s the connection, and where’s the teacher? This is a cute and funny mystery, the first in the series, in which the new kid on the squad, Detective Zengo, learns about trusting his gut but also how to think through interactions strategically. I thought his growth in this book was very well paced and the mystery unraveled neatly but not too complicated for a middle-grade novel. Once Zengo earns the trust of his veteran partner, O’Malley, things go much more smoothly. Of course, it doesn’t help that O’Malley’s teenage daughter is mixed up in this somehow. Personally, I saw an allegory between the illegal fish at the high school and illegal drugs, but other than that this is a cute story. (I also love that it takes place in “Kalamazoo City,” which I can only imagine is actually Kalamazoo from my home state of Michigan!)