Mouseheart Review & Giveaway

by Lisa Fiedler; Illustrated by Vivienne To
Audience: Ages 8 to 12 years
Fiction * Adventure * Animal Fantasy
Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster
May 20, 2014

Hopper is just an ordinary pet-shop mouse—until he escapes. Soon he finds himself below the bustling streets of Brooklyn, deep within the untamed tangles of transit tunnels, and in Atlantia, a glorious utopian rat civilization. 

But all is not as it seems. Hopper misses Pinkie and Pup, the siblings he lost in the escape attempt. Atlantia is constantly threatened by roving rebels who wish to bring the city to its knees. And there are cats everywhere, cats who would normally eat a rodent in a second, but leave the rats unharmed . . . and no one can seem to answer why. 

Soon Hopper is caught in the crosshairs of an epic battle, one that spans generations and species. As the clashes rage, Hopper learns terrible, extraordinary secrets. Deadly secrets about Atlantia. Painful secrets about his friends. 

And one powerful secret about himself.

When I first heard about Mouseheart, there was a comparison to the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques.  Surprisingly, for someone who does not typically like animal stories, I loved the Redwall Series. It was fantasy at it's finest and a great cast of animals, with epic stories and battles and journeys.  As a result, I was curious to read this book.

Whereas, Redwall is completely set in some medieval time period, Mouseheart begins in a pet shop in of all places Brooklyn, New York.  Soon though, readers follow Hopper as he escapes with his siblings and ends up in a medieval setting under Brooklyn. Atlantia of course has rats and mice and  felines.  There are those that are friends and those to be leery of, and Hopper has to decide who is friend and who is foe.

Adventure stories are also journey stories and for our very unlikley hero, Hopper, he must find the strength and courage to overcome his fears, and discover who he really is.  As a warning, Mouseheart is the first book in a series and does leave readers with some unanswered questions, and a desire to read the second book. 

The artwork in the Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) was not complete, so, it will be interesting to see the final artwork.  I know from speaking with my ARC Group (several students who gather to read ARCs and book talk to other students), though the cover art is stunning, it did scare away some of my more timid readers. It is true that there is some suspense and definitely some worrisome parts, but I have certainly read scarier books geared for the Middle Grade audience.  Consequently, it may be helpful to read bits and portions from the book, in order to draw in readers who love fantasy adventure but may be concerned that the book is too scary for them.

The bottom-line: Students who love animal fantasy and adventure stories will thoroughly enjoy Mouseheart.

Professional Reviews: Kirkus | Publisher's Weekly

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Lisa Fiedler is the author of several novels for children and young adults. She divides her time between Connecticut and the Rhode Island seashore, where she lives happily with her very patient husband, her brilliant and beloved daughter, and their two incredibly spoiled golden retrievers. 

ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Vivienne To has illustrated several books, including The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins and the Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective series by Octavia Spencer. As a child, she had two pet mice escape. She currently lives in Sydney, Australia, with her partner and her ginger cat. Visit her at

Check out the official website here.

About the Giveaway:

One lucky reader has a chance of winning a special prize pack, which includes a copy of MOUSEHEART, THE SEARCH FOR WONDLA, and BELLY UP.

Prizing & samples courtesy of Simon & Schuster.  You must be 13 years old or older and have a US mailing address to enter the Giveaway.  To submit and official entry, please enter the rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review - Mira's Diary: Home Sweet Rome

Author: Marissa Moss
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky (March 1, 2013)
Source: Copy for Review/Netgalley ARC
Audience: Ages 10 to 13
Fiction * Time Travel * 16th Century Rome

Description from GoodReads:
As if traveling to a new country in search of her missing mother weren't difficult enough, Mira has to do it dressed as a boy. In a different century.

A new postcard from her time-traveling mother points Mira to the 16th century Rome. But before she can rescue her mom, she must follow the clues left around the city to find Giordano Bruno, a famous thinker and mathematician, who discovered something so shocking that important Italian officials don't want it revealed. All the while avoiding the Watchers--time-traveling police who want Mira back in her own time.

It's another whirlwind adventure for Mira, and this time she is determined to bring her mother out of the past.

My thoughts on the book:
Mira's Diary: Home Sweet Rome is a follow-up to Mira's Diary: Lost in Paris.  In book 1, Mira has learned that her mother can time travel and has disappeared into the past.  It turns out that Mira seems to also have the same gift.  In this adventure, Mira's mother has sent her a message that will bring her into 16th Century Rome and an encounter with some very forward thinkers.  

Mira's Diary is certainly a book for Middle Grade readers who are fascinated with history and time-travel. The story is heavily seeped with historical figures and events that actually did occur, though the premise of the book and many of the character are fictional.  Readers are introduced to a number of important individuals from late 1500's to the early 1600's as Mira is brought back and forth between present day Rome to past Rome.  With only a few messages from her mother, Mira has to put the pieces together for herself as to what her purpose is in the past.  

As I read Mira's Diary, I realized that this is one of those times that as an adult reader, I might have more difficulty with the book than the average reader within the targeted audience.  When I considered the book from the perspective of my 12 year old self, I realized that some of the technical questions I had about time-travel (not so much the issue of could you time-travel - I could accept this as part of the story - but more so the rules of time-travel and how it is explained here) as an adult would not have even come up as a child.  Once I could settle that piece in my mind, then the ability to just go with the flow of the story worked.  

The other element that I questioned in the story was related to how Mira's mother seems to be stuck in the past but Mira herself came back and forth between the past and the present at least 3 times in the book.  Again, children may question, but it wouldn't detract from the story.  I won't give anything about the ending away other than to say that Moss has left readers with an anticipation of another book/adventure to come.   

Mira's Diary: Home Sweet Rome is a book that I would select with specific students in mind, particularly those children who enjoy history mixed with a sense of adventure.  For these students with a fascination of past people and events, Moss provides readers with wonderful details and an amazing author note at the end with even more facts and background information.    
Check back in on Monday for an interview with author Marissa Moss and a chance to win a copy of Mira's Diary: Home Sweet Rome

Favorite Middle Grade Novels of 2012

Since I limited all of the titles to ones that were released in 2012, it automatically eliminated some great books I read in 2012 that were released in 2011 (or before) and it also eliminated 2013 releases that I read in Advanced Readers form.  Each of the titles below were special to me.  They made me laugh, or cry, or both.  They took me to new places, and I discovered new things.  All are books that I would hand to the right student or place in a classroom library or purchase for a school library.  Many are ones that I have book talked at a teachers' night or spent time hand-selling at my local indie bookstore.  Some may go on to win awards, and some have won awards.   Enjoy!   

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (HarperCollins) - I read this early in 2012 and read it over and over again as I shared Ivan's story with students as read alouds.  Check out my post on Katherine Applegate's visit, click here.

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander (Margaret K. McElderry) - This was one of the last Middle Grade books I read in 2012.  Beautifully written. Magical.

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead (Random House) - I love Stead's writing and Georges story left an emotional imprint on me.

The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins) Beautifully written, with quirky characters, humor, mystery/adventure, and Creech makes you care what happens.

One for the Murphys by Lynn Mullaly Hunt (Penguin) - I read this story about a young girl in foster care in one sitting.  Tissues may be needed (at least I needed them).

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage (Penguin) - I listened to this one and would highly recommend the audiobook.  A story of friendship and mystery in a little town called Tupelo Landing.

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter (Feiwel & Friends)  - It is Ellen Potter and a re-telling of The Secret Garden.  Two of my favorites in one book.

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy; Illustrations Todd Harris (Walden Pond Press) - What happens after the "happily ever after"? A unique twist on some of our favorite fairy tales.


The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger (Abrams) - It's Tom Angleberger and it's the 3rd book in the Origami Yoda series - need I say more? 

Capture the Flag by Kate Messner (Scholastic) - Messner writes some of the best characters out there.  This adventure mystery is the start of a series.  Read it now so that you will be ready for book 2: Hide and Seek out April 2013.

So, what were your favorite middle grade novels in 2012?

Book Review - One For The Murphys

Author: Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin (May 10, 2012)
Source: Copy for review
Read Aloud: Grades 4th to 8th
Independent Reading Level: Grades 4th to 8th
Fiction * Foster Care * Family 

Description from GoodReads:
A moving debut novel about a foster child learning to open her heart to a family's love

Carley uses humor and street smarts to keep her emotional walls high and thick. But the day she becomes a foster child, and moves in with the Murphys, she's blindsided. This loving, bustling family shows Carley the stable family life she never thought existed, and she feels like an alien in their cookie-cutter-perfect household. Despite her resistance, the Murphys eventually show her what it feels like to belong--until her mother wants her back and Carley has to decide where and how to live. She's not really a Murphy, but the gifts they've given her have opened up a new future.

My thoughts on the book:
This is a tissue book.  Yeah, just thinking about the book, I have to pull out the tissues again. *wipes eyes, starts again to write* This is also a good book.  It came highly recommended and after reading it I understand why.  I challenge someone to start this book and not finish it in one sitting?  I couldn't put it down.  As a reader, I was so drawn into Carley's story that I just had to keep reading.   

Lynda Mullaly Hunt has created a very special book.  Readers will be pulled in by Carley, her story and by the Murphys just like Carley is drawn in.  Carley's own family life has been far from stable.  Raised by a single mother, Carley has been taught street-wise survival skills but after a severe beating by her step-father, Carley is placed in foster care.  Carley has heard about foster care and she is fully prepared not to like the Murphys.  Initially, Carley is determined to use humor, sarcasm, and even some anger to keep the family at a distance.  Over time,  Carley learns that there may be more choices in life for her than she originally believed. 

Writing stories about children in tough home situations or foster care can be a dangerous road to walk for an author.  Finding the right message and the right balance between telling it like it is and writing a "happily ever after" story is not easy.  Hunt has created a touching, heart-warming story that still manages to ring true and not gloss over some of the more difficult issues and choices that children such as Carley face while in foster care.  As Carley grows and develops from her interactions with the Murphys and with some of the students at her school, the reader also sees how Carley changes their lives as well.   

Since I wanted to know if I should include One For The Murphys in my fall recommendations to students and teachers, I knew I had to read this one before the school year was too far in.  I am glad that I have read it and excited to share Carley and her story with students and teachers.  This will definitely be one book that I recommend over and over again.   
Check out the book trailer below:

For more information on author Lynda Mullaly Hunt: website | blog | twitter | facebook

Book Review - Three Times Lucky

Author: Sheila Turnage
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin (May 10, 2012)
Read Aloud: Grades 4th to 8th
Independent Reading: Grades 5th to 8th
Source: Review Copy; Personal Copy
Fiction *

Description from Penguin:
A hilarious Southern debut with the kind of characters you meet once in a lifetime.

Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel--a café owner with a forgotten past of his own--and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Full of wisdom, humor, and grit, this timeless yarn will melt the heart of even the sternest Yankee.

My thoughts on this book:
"Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt.  Almost before the dust had settled, Mr. Jesse turned up dead and life in Tupelo Landing turned upside down." - Three Times Lucky, Sheila Turnage
Thus begins the opening paragraph of Turnage's debut middle grade novel set in the fictional town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina.  Are you hooked? I was.  

The story is told from the perspective of Miss Moses "Mo" LoBeau, rising sixth grader.  Mo is spunky and has a penchant for getting into her fair share of trouble along with her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III.  This middle grade mystery has several layers to uncover not just "who killed Mr. Jesse".   Readers soon discover that Mo has been trying to find her "upstream mother" for years.  She was rescued as an infant by the Colonel during a hurricane when he found her attached to a raft floating downstream.  Mo lives with the Colonel and Miss Lana who have been her guardians and the only parents she has known her whole life.  However, the Colonel and Miss Lana seem to have some secrets as well.  As Mo and Dale seek to discover who killed Mr. Jesse, where the Colonel has disappeared to, and more, pieces of everyone's stories are revealed.

Three Times Lucky hits all of the things that I like about a story.  Great characters that you find yourself wanting to know in real life, lots of things that make you laugh, just enough mystery and action to keep the story moving and some absolutely great one lines (and I am certain I didn't even pick the best ones).
"He's dead." he said promptly. Dale has a nose for the obvious.

"Dale can choose not to worry like he chooses not to wear socks. Miss Lana says I have more of a Jack Russell brain. I think things apart for sport.”

I shook my head. "Our drink du jour is Mountain Dew," I said. "I got a two-liter breathing in back."
For as many laughs in this book, there are also some serious issues such as Dale's father who drinks heavily and is physically abusive to his wife and son.  This does have a more hopeful resolution than I suspect is true for most cases of domestic abuse.

In looking at the comments/reviews of other individuals, I noticed that some had concerns with the portrayal of people from the south.  It might be easy to dismiss this story as just another one of those books that portray all Southerners as backwards, ignorant, and foolish. I am reminded of the TED talk The Danger of a Single Story,  Chimamanda Adichie warns "that if we hear only a single story about another person or a country, we risk a critical misunderstanding".  It is a powerful speech and one worth listening to.  Educators should take heed in that if the only books we shared with students were stories about poor, ignorant Southerners living in small towns, then we too would be "in danger of a single story".  However, there are Southerners (just like there are northerners) that live in small towns filled with eccentric, quirky characters.  Our responsibility as educators and reading leaders is to provide students with a rich variety that represents all types of people living in a specific region or during a designated time period.

Since I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Michal Freidman, I may have been struck more by the language Turnage uses to describe things.  There are tons of sayings and phrases that would keep a teacher of English Language Learners busy for weeks exploring what they all mean.  I quickly realized that if I (a Northern Yankee) tried to read this one aloud students would miss the cadence and rhythm of the story which is essential to understanding the setting and feel of the story, and to appreciating various aspects of the characters.  From this, I think I was struck by the importance of sharing a story like Mo LoBeau's with students.  

Though I admit that I truly enjoyed Three Times Lucky, I recognize that others may not have the same feelings.  I respect their choice to include or not include this in their classroom selections, but I do hope that they would give either the book or audiobook a chance before making that decision. 

For more information about Sheila Turnage: website | blog | facebook