Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Middle Grade Goodness” Edition…

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I’m ready to hunt down an eclectic bunch of middle grade titles with you today, so let’s saddle up and ride!

Carter and the Curious Maze (Philippa Dowding)

*We received a copy of Carter and the Curious Maze from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:carter and the curious maze.jpg

When Carter says that the Fair is super-boring this year, a creepy old man challenges him to try to beat his hedge maze. Once inside, Carter realises that this maze isn’t a typical fairground attraction and it might take him far longer than expected to find his way home.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is another fun addition to the author’s Weird Stories Gone Wrong collection of standalone books, featuring quick, engaging and unexpected tales.  The book revolves around Carter, a young boy who mistakenly believes that he is too old to have much fun at the local funfair.  On being invited to have a go at the admittedly less-than-enticing hedge maze, he soon discovers that some fairground attractions might harbour more secrets than they appear to at first glance.  Carter’s journey takes the reader on a whirlwind trip into various historical periods, from the present all the way back to the very beginnings of European settlement in his local area. I was hoping, overall, for a bit more depth in the characters and the problem-solving required from Carter to get back to the present, but because these are designed to be manageable reads, the word-count doesn’t necessarily allow for extended character development.  The character of Mr Green hits the mark in terms of creepiness and the “creepy leaf girl” that Carter encounters early on also exudes fairly sinister vibes (which are compounded upon seeing the illustration of her!), so there is quite enough weirdness to add a bit of uneasiness to the overall atmosphere.  I suspect that this would be a fantastic choice as a read-aloud for any teachers working on local history with their classes, as it really promotes the idea of thinking beyond the “now” and imagining (or even researching!) how what we consider to be our place or home has changed over time.  It’s probably alright to mention that while reading this story I became covetous of Carter’s sister’s squid hat and would quite like any tips on where to pick one up.

Brand it with:

Time travel, extreme gardening, creepy old guys

Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits (Julian Gough and Jim Field)

*We received a copy of Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:rabbit and bear

When Bear wakes early from hibernation, she immediately begins to look for food…which has gone missing…so she makes a snowman instead. This simple act sparks a friendship with Rabbit, which, while rocky at first, is forged in the fire and comes out stronger on the other side.

Muster up the motivation because…

…aside from its visual appeal, this story provides some extremely funny dialogue exchanges about poo and the eating thereof.  If you’re still with me, having digested the thought of conversations about eating one’s own poo (pun intended), then you will probably enjoy the non-pooey parts of the story as well (of which there are many).  Rabbit and Bear is a fully illustrated early chapter book (with no chapters), featuring a trusting and forgiving bear and a reasonably self-centred and tetchy rabbit.  Aside from these two protagonists we are also introduced to a wolf (undoubtedly the villain of the piece) and a collection of snowpeople (inanimate).  There isn’t a great deal of plot going on here, possibly due to the fact that this is a series-opener and needs to do the work of introducing the characters in a short amount of text, but the dialogue exchanges between Rabbit, Bear and occasionally the Wolf, are quite funny in places and there are enough changes in pace to keep the interest up and the reader turning the pages. During the non-poo-eating parts of the book, a quite touching friendship develops between Rabbit and Bear, albeit with a few (non poo-related) teething issues, and the ending is saccharine sweet and will no doubt make you go “Awwwww!”  I’d recommend this as a pre-bedtime read-aloud for mini-fleshlings with a taste for quirky animal stories, or a read-alone for confident readers at the lower end of the middle grade age bracket who can’t go past a bit of poo-based humour.

Brand it with:

The odd couple, fun with rotting vegetables, run rabbit run

Fuzzy (Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger)

*We received a copy of Fuzzy from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:fuzzy

Max Zelaster is a good student with a fascination for robots, so when her school is chosen to participate in a new robot integration program, Max is super excited. After being assigned to help “Fuzzy” learn the ropes of middle school, Max finds herself getting into more and more trouble – will and Fuzzy be able to figure out what’s really going on behind the scenes before both suffer dire consequences?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a quality story about friendship and bucking the system, reminiscent of Louis Sachar’s work.  Set in the near future, Max and her friends exist in a school system for which the pinnacle of academic achievement is scoring correctly on standardised tests, while following all behaviour rules to the letter.  Max is a character to whom one can’t help but be sympathetic when it becomes apparent that someone or something is tweaking the system to ensure that she doesn’t measure up to standards.  Fuzzy starts off the book as a bit of a non-entity, but quickly develops his programming and blossoms into an unlikely hero with conflicting feelings about his origins and purpose.  This is a bit of a deceptive story: on one level it can be read as a simple story of friendship and standing up for one’s rights in an unjust situation, while on deeper reflection there is plenty to spark conversation on larger social issues including the purpose of education, the relativity of truth and the positive and negative implications for society of rapid technological advancement.  There is a lot to get one’s teeth into here, whether you are in the target age-bracket or not, although the story does read like a middle-grade tale in terms of language and character development.  I’d definitely recommend this book for its originality of content and the authors’ unabashed opening of various cans of  worms.

Brand it with:

All hail the robot overlords, no running in the halls, big brother is watching you

Now go forth and round up these titles for your TBR list, d’ya hear?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

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