Middle-grade readers will hope for more Nora Notebooks, soon.

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THE TROUBLE WITH ANTS

From the Nora Notebooks series , Vol. 1

A science-minded fourth-grader observes her classmates and the ants in her ant farm with equal care.

Mills’ new series stars 10-year-old Nora Alpers but also features classmates at Plainfield Elementary School from her Mason Dixon series. In their first two weeks after winter break, Nora, Mason, and Brody Baxter deal with a skunked dog, play basketball, and write persuasive essays. Nora dresses up for a fancy high tea with cat-loving Emma Averill and takes no side in the best-pet war that divides her classmates. Nora is already a scientist, a myrmecologist; she watches and wonders about ants. She has a scientist’s mind, endless questions, and the habit of careful attention. She fills her newest notebook with interesting facts about ants she’s learned from library books (from the grown-up section) and her own observations. Each chapter in this engaging third-person narrative ends with an ant fact and includes a grayscale illustration. As always in this author’s school stories, the idiosyncratic characters are believable and the school life, realistic. Inspired by an entry in a Guinness World Record book, Nora hopes to become the youngest person ever to get an article published in a peer-reviewed science magazine. She doesn’t achieve that lofty goal, but what she does accomplish is quite satisfying.

Middle-grade readers will hope for more Nora Notebooks, soon. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-39161-0

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Sweetly low-key and totally accessible.

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THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER

Billy Miller’s second-grade year is quietly spectacular in a wonderfully ordinary way.

Billy’s year begins with his worry over the lump on his head, a souvenir of a dramatic summer fall onto concrete: Will he be up to the challenges his new teacher promises in her letter to students? Quickly overshadowing that worry, however, is a diplomatic crisis over whether he has somehow offended Ms. Silver on the first day of school. Four sections—Teacher, Father, Sister and Mother—offer different and essential focal points for Billy’s life, allowing both him and readers to explore several varieties of creative endeavor, small adventures, and, especially, both challenges and successful problem-solving. The wonderfully self-possessed Sal, his 3-year-old sister, is to Billy much as Ramona is to Beezus, but without the same level of tension. Her pillowcase full of the plush yellow whales she calls the Drop Sisters (Raindrop, Gumdrop, etc.) is a memorable prop. Henkes offers what he so often does in these longer works for children: a sense that experiences don’t have to be extraordinary to be important and dramatic. Billy’s slightly dreamy interior life isn’t filled with either angst or boisterous silliness—rather, the moments that appear in these stories are clarifying bits of the universal larger puzzle of growing up, changing and understanding the world. Small, precise black-and-white drawings punctuate and decorate the pages.

Sweetly low-key and totally accessible. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-226812-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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Young readers will recognize Suds as one of their own and will gladly follow him to fourth grade. Sweet and funny.

THIRD GRADE ANGELS

Suds Morton is not yet a “Fourth Grade Rat.” In this prequel to Spinelli's 1991 standby, he is a year younger and, according to his school’s traditional chant, he aspires to the sobriquet of “Third Grade Angel.”

When his teacher announces her intention of rewarding angelic behavior with a halo, Suds decides he wants to be the first angel. Between his cool new friend Joey, his wise mom and a little conclusion-jumping, he comes up with a plan. But, of course, his results are just a little off-kilter. Suds, nicknamed for his preference for calming soaks in bubble baths when he gets “chipmunky,” needs all the help he can get to deal with the various disasters and tribulations that threaten to overwhelm him. Along with the angel chase there’s a pesky little sister, a fifth-grade bully and total rejection by the girl he adores. Spinelli doesn’t miss a beat in recreating the characters from the earlier work and never reveals any hint of Suds’ fourth-grade future. He lets readers into Suds’ 8-year-old mind without condescension. His problems and concerns are treated comically but with genuine kindness. Suds is innocent, gullible and trusting; he is also entirely good-hearted.

Young readers will recognize Suds as one of their own and will gladly follow him to fourth grade. Sweet and funny. (Fiction. 7-10)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-38772-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Levine/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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