Genuine Fraud


Genuine Fraud
E. Lockhart
Delacorte Press
September 2017

Starting from chapter 18, the first chapter in the book, it’s clear that Jules is a young woman with a particular set of skills. We quickly find out that, like Liam Neeson, one of those skills is kicking people’s asses. But what else is Jules capable of? Impersonation? Theft? Fraud? Murder? Her intense friendship with wealthy college drop-out Imogene takes Jules on an International journey to the playgrounds of the rich – New York, London, Mexico, the Caribbean, San Francisco, Martha’s Vineyard – to cover her tracks and claim what chance handed her a shot at – a life among the rich and careless. Similarly to her last YA novel We Were Liars, with Genuine Fraud E. Lockhart plays with time and tests your assumptions about young adult books are and can be.


The Dollhouse Murders


The Dollhouse Murders
Betty Ren Wright
Re-published by Holiday House, 2012 (the edition I read)
Originally published by Scholastic, 1985

There’s always a certain amount of danger when reading a book that you are nostalgic about. Is it worth that risk that it might not live up your memories? And if it doesn’t, can you in good conscience continue to promote it as a personal favorite, one that others should read? The Dollhouse Murders is one of those books that I have very distinct memories of reading and being terrified and thrilled by it. It and Babysitters Club book #2 Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls pretty much made me the horror/suspense fan I am today. So when I was asked to give the name of my favorite children’s or YA horror book and this choice would be made very public, I decided to reread The Dollhouse Murders to see if it held up to my memories and if I were willing to declare it my favorite, as I definitely would have at age 8 or so.

In The Dollhouse Murders, after her developmentally delayed sister ruins an afternoon at the mall, Amy runs away to her aunt’s house and ends up striking a deal to stay with Aunt Clare in the house where Amy’s great grandparents lived and raised Aunt Clare and Amy’s father. Amy discovers a dollhouse in the attic that is an exact replica of the house, complete with two adult dolls and a boy and a girl doll to represent the family. Amy is delighted at first but when she notices that the dolls are moving by themselves, the lights in the dollhouse are turning themselves on and off, she becomes scared, naturally. It becomes even more terrifying when she learns that her great grandparents were murdered in the house and the dolls seem to be recreating the crime scene. The murderer was never caught. Could the dollhouse be trying to tell Amy something? Sharing some information to solve the mystery of the murder? Yep, pretty much.

This book is a perfect example of how middle-grade horror should be. It has a few suspenseful scenes, a high creep factor with the old house, the attic, and the dolls, but the characters are never in any real danger. While it talks about murder, there is no gore or violence; that all happens in the past and is only hinted at. And while the murders seem like the main story, The Dollhouse Murders is much more about family relationships, the secrets we keep, and the uncertainties of making and keeping friends as a tween. I was surprised by how much I still liked it, despite a pretty safe, anti-climactic ending.

One last thing about Amy’s sister LouAnn. She is developmentally delayed, and aside from the use of the word “retarded” one time in the book (it was written in the ’80s after all, though they should have fixed it in the 2012 edition), LouAnn is written with great respect by the author, I felt. She is key in solving the mystery and her relationship with Amy, while strained, grows throughout the story. A fully abled little sister would have sufficed but Wright chose to write her as disabled but not helpless. While diverse writing has come a long way since 1985, I really appreciated the inclusiveness of LouAnn’s character.

I didn’t end up naming The Dollhouse Murders as my favorite children’s horror book. Instead I opted for The Witches by Roald Dahl, which is pretty much my all-time favorite children’s book that also just happens to be horror.

Fun fact: there was a made-for-TV movie based on The Dollhouse Murders in 1992.

Read alikes/some other middle grade horror-mystery-suspense I read as a ’90s kid

The Face on the Milk Carton by Lois Duncan
Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
All the old Nancy Drew books with the yellow covers by Carolyn Keene
The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Welcome to Dead House by R.L. Stine

Roller Girl


Roller Girl
Victoria Jamieson
Dial Books
March 2015
Read for The 2016 YALSA Hub Reading Challenge
On the YALSA list of Top Ten Great Graphic Novels & Top Ten Popular Paperbacks

Being a tween is tough, especially when, like Astrid, you start to grow apart from your life-long best friend. The rift between Astrid and her BFF Nicole reaches a breaking point when Nicole decides to go do ballet summer camp with Astrid’s archenemy instead of signing up for roller derby camp. To make matters worse, Astrid can’t even stay upright on her skates, let alone speed around and hip check the older girls, required skills if she is going to make a name for herself (literally, she needs to come up with a catchy, punny roller derby name) among the Rosebuds, the junior roller derby girls in Portland, Oregon. As Astrid tries to make her big break into roller derby, she simultaneously navigates making new friends, maintaining her relationship with her mom (who is apparently single and a also an academic librarian), and exploring her identity, which may or may not include blue hair but definitely doesn’t include pink clothing. In a pitch-perfect display of what it is like to be a totally irrational, emotional, awkward, insecure middle-school girl, Victoria Jamieson creates a character in Astrid that simultaneously makes you want to cheer her on and cringe at her decisions and embarrassments. It will also make you want to strap on some skates over rainbow socks and get out in the rink.

After reading Roller Girl and, of course watching Whip It – that movie with Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore – I’m ready for more roller derby. Portlandia hasn’t parodied it yet, a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of the Rose City Rollers, the roller derby team that Victoria Jamieson is on IRL!

I think Candace and Toni would put on great war faces.


Read Alikes

El Deafo by Cece Bell
Smile by Raina Telgemeier

The Inn Between


The Inn Between
Marina Cohen
Roaring Brook Press
March 2016
Advanced Reader Copy courtesy of NetGalley

Quinn and Kara are best friends who have been through a lot together but now Kara’s family is moving a thousand miles away. Quinn is making the drive with Kara and Kara’s parents and brother from Colorado to California as a kind of extended goodbye when they stop for the night in an off-the-beaten-path hotel, the Inn Between. The hotel is a beautiful old Victorian mansion that seems bigger on the inside and has an overly cheerful staff and no phone line to the outside. After their first night at the Inn Between strange things start to happen – Kara’s parents disappear, Quinn thinks she hears and sees her little sister, Quinn nearly drowns in the hotel swimming pool, and on and on. Things get downright scary when Quinn and Kara accidentally take the elevator to the basement. What is really going on at the Inn Between? This young middle grade book has just enough creeps and suspense to satisfy young mystery fans but at its heart is a story about friendship and knowing when to let go. Pitch-perfect pacing, tight storytelling, and a few twists and turns make The Inn Between an addicting, cover-to-cover-in-one-afternoon kind of read.

Read Alikes

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire LeGrand



Gordon Korman
Balzer + Bray
August 2012

When impulsive middle schooler and underachiever Donovan Curtis accidentally causes thousands of dollars in damage to his school’s gym, he needs a place to hide from the superintendent bent on bringing him to justice. Donovan’s wish comes true when an acceptance letter from the Academy for Scholastic Distinction lands in his mailbox, a clerical error having sent him to a school full of geniuses. It’s clear from the beginning that he is not particularly gifted or even smart, but he brings some much needed levity to the Academy. He names the robotics team’s robot Tin Man Metallica Squarepants, joins the robotics team as Tin Man’s driver thanks to years of video game experience, and saves the geniuses from mandatory summer school when yet another oversight by the school district threatens to bring them up short on their Health and Human Development (basically sex ed) credit. Donovan can’t hide forever, but as the “normal” savior of his Academy class, he has the help of his new friends to stretch his time at the Academy out as long as possible. The story is told from many points of view – students, teachers, Donovan’s sister Katie – in alternating chapters, but the voices are not very distinct from one another, relying mostly on gimmicky chapter titles to differentiate which character is narrating. Narration issues aside, the story has a lot of heart and an imperfect ending that is just right for these characters.

While the book was so-so for me, I can see it really resonating with kids like Donovan – reluctant readers, underachievers, pranksters. Korman lays on the normal-kid worship pretty thick with Academy students and teachers claiming that Donovan “brought us to life” and “without him nothing worked” and even that they “don’t deserve Donovan” at the Academy. On the other hand, how often do you see an underdog kid getting so much praise and appreciation from teachers and the gifted students? Normally they are getting in trouble, being told no, or being didactically presented as someone who needs to change or who is not worthy of praise. Instead the reader is told that all kids have value, even the troublemakers, and that is a message I can get behind.

I also have to commend Korman for the way he wrote Katie, Donovan’s sister. She is in her 20s, pregnant, and living with her parents while her husband is fighting in Afghanistan. Some books have addressed the effects of the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but not nearly enough compared to the number of real life families actually affected. Katie was not the focus of the book obviously, but her presence and the story behind her character are an important inclusion that I really enjoyed and appreciated and that I think military families will appreciate too.

Read alikes

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos
 by Carl Hiaasen
Hank Zipzer series by Henry Winkler (for a slightly younger audience than Ungifted)

Multicultural Children’s Book Day Review: Joelito’s Big Decision

Joelito Cover Two Boys Lo Rez

Joelito’s Big Decision
Ann Berlak, ill. Daniel Camacho
Hard Ball Press
August 2015
Copy of the book was provided free by the author for Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Joelito’s family has a tradition of going out for hamburgers at Sam MacMann’s every Friday, but this week their plans fall apart when the fast food workers are on strike, demanding a raise in their wages as part of the Fight for 15 movement. Joelito recognizes his best friend, Brandon, and Brandon’s family among the picketers. Brandon’s parents work at the restaurant and don’t make enough money to support their family. At first Joelito is torn between supporting his friend and carrying on his family’s weekly burger tradition. Ultimately Joelito learns a lesson about the economics of big business and the importance of supporting your friends and community in challenging times, leading him to make his “big decision.”

While Joelito’s Big Decision is a story about friendship and community, it is also a story about the economy and its effect on families. Brandon’s family’s story is one that became all too common after the Great Recession in 2008 – parents lose good factory jobs and are forced to take minimum-wage, low skill jobs; the family has to leave their house and move into an apartment; they don’t have money to take care of the family, all culminating in their participation in the strike. Many kids will be able to relate to Brandon’s family as the effects of the recession continue to be felt today across the country.

The book also includes what we can assume is an immigrant story. Joelito’s mother talks about her family’s humble beginnings picking fruit in horrible conditions, but today, because of demonstrations by the farm workers, they have worked their way up to have a fairly comfortable life. Joelito’s family honors that family history by joining in the demonstration against Sam MacMann’s and eating at a locally owned restaurant instead.

While the book could use one more proofreading and some illustrations’ relationship to the text isn’t always immediately clear, Joelito’s Big Decision addresses important issues and the bilingual English and Spanish text will make the book more accessible for Spanish-speaking children and families.

For teachers and parents, Joelito’s Big Decision provides a good jumping off point for discussion about issues of workers’ rights, the right to assemble, wealth distribution, and the power of the consumer to choose what businesses they support. As always, more information can be found at your local library on all of these topics.

Suggested reading

Side by Side/Lado a Lado: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez (bilingual English-Spanish) by Monica Brown, illustrated by Joe Cepeda

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Martel, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Companion activity

In the illustrations of the Sam MacMann’s strike, many people hold up signs with slogans or demands or the reason they are striking. Look at these illustration and think about a cause you are passionate about – for example, animal rights, a better environment, a safer neighborhood, to keep a school or library or park open, etc. If you had a sign at a strike or rally for your cause, what would you write on it? Would it be one word or many? In English or another language? Would it rhyme? Maybe you would include pictures or use a lot of different colors. Practice making your sign on a small sheet of paper. Use crayons or colored pencils or markers. Think about the sign you’ve made. Does your sign get your message across? Does is represent you and your cause?

About Multicultural Children’s Book Day

Multicultural Children’s Book Day is on January 27, 2016.

The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books*Lil Libros
Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk*Candlewick Press
Silver: Lee and Low Books*Chronicle Books*Capstone Young Readers
Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books* Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh* China*

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can view them here.

Millicent Min, Girl Genius


Millicent Min, Girl Genius
Lisa Yee
October 2003

It’s not easy being a genius, even during summer vacation. Millicent Min, an 12-year-old rising high school senior with no friends (except her grandmother) and few non-academic interests, is taking a “fun” college summer class – poetry – while also reluctantly playing on a club volleyball team and tutoring jock Stanford Wong who is in danger of flunking out of the sixth grade. Millicent befriends her volleyball teammate Emily but doesn’t tell her that she is a certified genius (according to IQ tests and that fact that Millicent was on talk shows as a child) for fear that Emily won’t want to be friends any more. But when a crush between Stanford and Emily leads to Stanford claiming that he is the one tutoring Millicent, she can only hide the truth for so long. Can Emily accept Millicent’s genius? Or is Millicent’s fear of rejection overblown? Lisa Yee creates a funny and charming cast of characters of whom Millicent, at 12 years old, is the most mature, almost to the point of being a parody of a child genius. However, Millicent’s naivety shines through in so many non-intellectual interactions, sometimes hilariously (when she thinks Emily’s mom is going to offer her weed) and sometimes pitifully (in the case of her “friendship” with a college student who is really just using her), reminding the reader of how young she really is and making her relatable for middle grade readers.

Millicent Min, Girl Genius is one of three books in the Millicent Min trilogy. Rather than the sequels being a linear telling within the same world, each book tells the same story from a different point of view. This layering of stories is one of my favorite exercises in children’s literature. I haven’t read the other two books – from Stanford and Emily’s points of view – but I love the idea of presenting to children the same conflicts through others’ eyes. Adults talk a big game about “walking in someone else’s shoes” but children (and let’s be honest, many adults) have a hard time gaining the empathy to actually put it into practice. Books and series that do the leg work of making the other side of the story plain are a great way to practice empathy and consider all the angles before you judge too quickly. I’m planning to read the other two books and will report back!

Read alikes, smart kids

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Winger by Andrew Smith

Read alikes, multiple viewpoints

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass
Wonder by R.J. Palacio