Book Review: DESMOND COLE GHOST PATROL, by Andres Miedoso and Victor Rivas

Recent releases Escape from the Roller Ghoster and Beware the Werewolf are the eleventh and twelfth books in the Desmond Cole Ghost Patrol series, and there’s a good reason why there are so many of these books. They are great. Each book is about 120 pages, broken up into ten chapters, and packed full of Victor Rivas’s excellent illustrations. The books exist in that somewhat hard-to-define space between early readers and full-fledged Middle Grade novels, and therefore can appeal to a wide variety of readers. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that the books are an absolute blast. They are fast-paced, exciting, and loaded with both down-to-earth, relatable kid content and high-interest, out-of-this world frights. (Though, it should be said, the scary stuff isn’t too scary – it’s more likely to lead to giggles than nightmares.)

One of my favorite things about the series is how author Andres Miedoso named the narrator of the series Andres Miedoso. Andres (the narrator, not the author) is Desmond Cole’s best friend. This narrative device instantly invites readers into the boys’ world in a way that a differently named narrator could not, and continuously prompts readers to wonder, “Did all this wild, spooky stuff really happen?” What’s more, the device also encourages readers to consider what kinds of stories they might be able to narrate, whether or not they add a hefty dose of imaginary fun to their experiences.

These all-around awesome books are a great addition to any elementary classroom or school library. Their content and format guarantee broad appeal, and their accessibility ensures benefits for both thriving and emerging readers of different ages and grades.

Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds, Revenge of the EngiNerds, The EngiNerds Strike Back, Geeger the Robot Goes to School, and Geeger the Robot: Lost and Found, as well as the author-illustrator of the activity book Give This Book a Title. Jarrett is also the author-illustrator of the forthcoming activity book Give This Book a Cover and the forthcoming Hunger Heroes graphic novel series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com and on Twitter and Instragram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives with his family in Medford, Massachusetts.

Book Review: THESE UNLUCKY STARS, by Gillian McDunn

Annie Logan has always felt like the odd one in her family since her mother left them. She’s convinced that she is unlucky; bad things always happen to her, and she doesn’t have a single friend. Her brother Ray and her dad are practical and seemingly happy-go-lucky. Things always seem to work out for Ray who’s a A student and all-round responsible kid. They live in a small mountain town where their father runs a hardware store that may not be doing as well as it used to.

Things take an interesting turn when Annie forms an unlikely friendship with a grumpy old woman named Gloria. Around the same time, the town is planning a parade to gain more publicity. Annie is frustrated that her float design ideas aren’t welcome by her dad, despite the fact that she’s the artist in the family. As Annie gets to know Gloria, and things start to shift within her own family as they prepare for the parade, Annie learns that life is what you make of it.

I adored this story. Annie’s rambunctious tone had me from the first page. She’s young and chubby, and trying to figure out who she is. My heart went out to her because I understand how it can be when your view of the world around you limits you. She is so convinced that she just has bad luck — or perhaps it’s easier to believe that instead of taking life by the horns. I liked watching her befriend Faith and I just thoroughly enjoyed being in Annie’s head.

Annie’s relationships in this book are complicated, whether with her dad, brother, Gloria, Faith, or the other boys in this story. Yet, it is heartwarming to see how fortunate she is to be surrounded by decent people who look out for her. In many ways, this book is an ode to living in a small town, how comforting it can be to be surrounded by people who love you and look out for you. I loved the way we learn about Annie’s mother, and the sensitive way the author portrays her situation — although not everyone with the same issues would react in the same way.

Finally, at the heart of this story is a child building a friendship (albeit, very reluctantly) with an elderly person. I love books with this narrative arc, and I enjoyed Gloria’s dry wit and all the wise words she tells Annie throughout the story. The writing in this book is poignant, insightful, and just a joy to read, especially for middle-grade literature.


Afoma Umesi is a freelance writer and editor with a voracious appetite for children’s literature. She blogs about books at Reading Middle Grade.

Cover Reveal for WELCOME TO DWEEB CLUB, by Betsy Uhrig

Hi Betsy, and welcome to MG Book Village. We’re happy to be part of the cover reveal for your upcoming book, Welcome to Dweeb Club, which releases September 28, 2021. Can you tell us a bit about it, please?

Thank you so much! Welcome to Dweeb Club is about a group of seventh-graders who join an oddly named school club and stumble on video files of themselves five years in the future – as seniors in high school. Which leads to some important questions. First, who sent the files and why? And second, what if they don’t like what they see in their futures?

Their efforts to figure all this out, and to avert what they see as some poor life choices ahead, lead to ill-considered experiments with the space-time continuum, uncomfortable encounters with local wildlife (and with one another), and a madcap chase across a high-tech campus. 

I love the idea for this story! I’d love to know the inspiration behind it?

This story rose from the ashes of a manuscript I had given up on. I was a little ways into a time-travel adventure set in the same (fictional) school as this one and featuring a character from this one, when I gave up on it because the time-travel contradictions were frying my brain. Then, in a final stroke of fate, I accidentally deleted the manuscript. Permanently. I started over with the time element curtailed so I could get a grip on it, and Dweeb Club was the result! My brain still ended up a little bit fried.   

I’m always curious to know how an author chooses a title for their book, and if the final title is their original one. Could you tell us more about that process for this book.

This title came about pretty late in the process, and it was actually the inspiration for some quite satisfying revisions to the text. The book was always named after the club in question, but that changed several times over the course of rewriting and editing. I like “Dweeb Club” because it’s a bit clunky to pronounce. Try saying it five times fast! 

Can you describe your main character, and what you like best about them?

Jason Sloan is the main character and, as club historian, the narrator of the book. He tends to categorize others with handy labels like “Stork Legs” and “Vegan Lunch,” which eventually lands him in trouble. I like Jason’s honesty, his willingness to be the punch line of his own jokes, and his ability to change course. He also has a way with skunks! 

What does an average writing session look like for you?

I tend to write in short spurts and then rest for long periods. It’s almost reptilian. I will usually open the document and edit what I wrote during the previous session – to get back into the flow of the story – then try to add a bit more. It’s a slow process of accretion, basically. 

OK, let’s talk about your cover. Who is the designer/illustrator? Did you have any input on it, and if so, what was the experience like for you?

Betsy: The illustrator is Lisa K. Weber, and the designer is Debra Sfetsios-Conover at Simon & Schuster, and they did an amazing job! I saw early sketches and made sure the kids looked like the ones in my head. It was very fun to see them come to life. I absolutely love how their shadows make the kids look bigger – like the older versions of themselves they see in the book. It’s so subtle and clever, and I never would have thought of it. 

Let’s show everyone what it looks like!

I LOVE how this captures a moment of anticipation, and the look on the skunk’s face! I think this will really appeal to young readers.

What do you hope young readers will take away from your story?

First, I hope readers will laugh at Jason and company’s adventures, especially their skunk encounters and their low-speed golf cart chase. But I also want readers to see that life is full of choices, big and small, that can send you off on new trajectories, and there are always ways to change course if you want to. Finally (and this would have been really helpful to me in junior high): your seventh-grade self is a work in progress and guaranteed to change over the next five years—and beyond. 

Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?

They can visit BetsyUhrig.com for more about me and my cats and my other book, Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini. They can also follow me on Twitter @BetsyUhrig. And there’s more about my books at https://www.simonandschuster.com/authors/Betsy-Uhrig/168271742. 

Thank you for allowing us to be part of your cover reveal, Betsy, and all the best with your book’s release.

Thank you for hosting me! And thank you so much for all you do for the marvelous middle-grade community! 

Betsy Uhrig is the author of Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini and Welcome to Dweeb Club. She was born and raised in Greater Boston, where she lives with her family and even more books than you are picturing. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in English and has worked in publishing ever since. For more information about her, visit BetsyUhrig.com.

Interview with K.G. Campbell re: Zombie Problems

  • There is a Goodreads giveaway for The Zombie Stone going on until Friday, February 19th. You can follow this link to enter the contest.

Welcome to MG Book Village! It’s a pleasure to have a chance to chat with you today about your middle grade series, Zombie Problems. Can you please tell our readers a little bit more about your series?

Hi Kathie.  Thank you for welcoming me to your arena and giving me the opportunity to talk about my gruesome little yarn.  Zombie Problems is a three part series, a trilogy, with a single story arc.  Ostensibly, it’s a darkly funny and slightly gross, highly atmospheric, Southern Gothic about a twelve year-old boy with, well, zombie problems.  On a deeper level, at the heart of the story, lies childhood loneliness, and as it has progressed, perhaps even a universal loneliness that is part of the human condition.

The Zombie Stone was released on January 12, 2021

This series is your foray writing middle grade fiction. How did that process differ from writing picture books?

The vast majority of stories, long or short, are constructed on the same frame: catalyst, goal, conflict, resolution and so on.  So to that extent, there is not much difference.

A picture book however, generally has a single plot with a simple takeaway.  A novel is a rather more organic and untameable animal.  Now, I’m a serious “plotter” and Zombie Problems had a robust story arc with an ending before it was even started.  But even I found subplots emerging and character development evolving as the tale progressed.  So the biggest difference I guess, would be that with longer works, I’m more fluid and open to unexpected turns.

Why do you think zombies are such appealing characters for kids?

Well, the short answer is that they are gross and awesome!  A more considered explanation would be that during our development, around the age of 8-12, young humans become fascinated and entertained by all things macabre.  I suspect this has something to do with an increased understanding of, and coping with, our own mortality.  For some of us of course (like me!) that fascination never dies (pardon the pun).

If you were standing beside a young reader in a bookstore, trying to decide if they should purchase your book, what would you say to convince them?

Do you know what it’s like to hold someone’s eyeball in your hand?  No?  Well, you should definitely read this book to find out.

That’s a great answer! You are also a well known children’s illustrator. Were you involved in the covers of these books?

I was really thrilled to contract my first middle grade series and became a little giddy with a sense of autonomy, with the ability to construct an entire, fairly extensive, world of my very own.  As I have an illustrative background, I decided that this should be the most lavishly illustrated middle grade series ever!  So yes, not only did I craft the (wraparound) covers, but a full page illustration and spot for every single chapter and double page spreads for four of them.  It in fact took me longer to illustrate these books, than it did to write them.  Wearing both hats I fear, has slowed down production, but bringing my characters to life both in words and visuals has been a labor of love. I hope that shines through.

Can you share an interesting tidbit about your writing life or publishing journey with us?

As many of your readers no doubt know, with so much competition out there, it is not easy to get your foot in a publisher’s door as an author of kid lit.  After several attempts to do so myself, I very consciously turned to my artistic skills, educated myself in industry expectations and marketed myself as an illustrator.  As you can see, the strategy worked.  But even today, I consider myself a writer who happens to be able to draw, rather than an artist who happens to be able to write.

Where can people go to find out more information about you and your writing?

You can check out my work and bio in any of the following locations:

Website: www.kgcampbell.com.

Instagram: https://instagram.com/kgcampbellauthor?igshid=10i0moomm2k16 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/artbykgcampbell?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

Amazon Author Page: https://smile.amazon.com/K-G-Campbell/e/B00ATH76OW?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1612725876&sr=8-1

GoodReads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6588725.K_G_Campbell

Thank you again for joining us today, Keith, and best of luck with your series and the final book’s release.

Oh, there’s nothing that writers like more than to talk about themselves, so the pleasure was all mine.  Thank you for having me and for the good wishes.  August DuPont and his undead great, great aunt Claudette have been such a huge part of my life for three or four years, that I confess to becoming misty eyed a few weeks ago, when I finally wrote that terminal phrase “The End”.  I hope you and your readers find their misadventures as engaging as I have.

K.G. Campbell was born in Kenya but raised and educated in Scotland.  He graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a master’s degree in Art History.

He is the author and/or illustrator of numerous award-winning books, including Lester’s Dreadful SweatersThe Mermaid and the Shoe and Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses.  The Zombie Problems trilogy is his first work of middle grade fiction.

K.G. is currently a full-time author/illustrator and lives in California.

Book Review: ASTRONUTS (MISSION TWO: THE WATER PLANET), by Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg

Have you ever read a book from a series that wasn’t the first, and then immediately felt the need to go back and read the first one? That’s what happened to me after reading AstroNuts (Mission Two: The Water Planet) by Jon Scieszka. This is the second in this series that is all about the adventures of four superpowered animal astronauts who are on a mission to find a “just right” planet for humans to move to (since you know, we’re not doing a great job of taking care of the planet we’re actually on).

I felt like this book did an awesome job of being engaging for readers and educating them at the same time. Not only did I learn about why using the scientific method is important, but I also learned what happens when the oceans are not taken care of like they should be. All of this while enjoying the antics of the unsuspecting, scatterbrained AstroNuts. As the narrator tells us, “…the Water Planet…did turn out to be a good lesson on how to take care of a planet…and how to take care of your friends”.

When I first read this book, my son had just finished working on a project about the world’s water crisis in school, and I thought this book could’ve been perfectly paired with their unit, especially for those readers who were really into the topic. So in addition to being a great addition to any sort of Earth Day-type unit, I can easily see this series being enjoyed by all young readers in 3rd through 5th grades. AstroNuts (Mission Two: The Water Planet), by Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg was released in August of 2020. (And as as side note, I did go and find the e-book of book 1 of this series after I finished.)

Deana Metzke, in addition to being a wife and mother of two, spent many years as a Literacy Coach, and is now an Elementary Teacher Instructional Leader for Literacy and Social Studies for her school district. In addition to occasionally sharing her thoughts here at MG Book Village, you can read more of her thoughts about kid lit and trying to raise children who are readers at raisingreaders.site or follow her on Twitter @DMetzke. She is also a member of #bookexcursion.

Book Review: ALONE, by Megan E. Freeman

A surreal yet eerily familiar scenario sets off this survival story that is by turns pulse-pounding and philosophical. Alone is a novel in verse, and the abundant blank space on the pages serves to emphasize the solitude of Maddie, the book’s protagonist. It’s also sure to keep kids feverishly flipping the pages – though the fine-tuned beauty of many passages will surely then get them slowing down, lingering over the language and the complex, powerful thoughts and emotions Maddie experiences, all of them expertly captured by author Megan E. Freeman.

Many people have compared Alone to Hatchet, Gary Paulsen’s classic survival story. And while that comparison is definitely apt, I think Alone can and will appeal to a different, and possibly broader, group of readers. Maddie is a down-to-earth girl who finds herself in an extraordinary situation. I can see countless readers relating to her, then rooting for her, and ultimately wanting to read her story again and again.

Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds, Revenge of the EngiNerds, The EngiNerds Strike Back, Geeger the Robot Goes to School, and Geeger the Robot: Lost and Found, as well as the author-illustrator of the activity book Give This Book a Title. Jarrett is also the author-illustrator of the forthcoming activity book Give This Book a Cover and the forthcoming Hunger Heroes graphic novel series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com and on Twitter and Instragram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives with his family in Medford, Massachusetts.

Book Review: AMINA’S SONG, by Hena Khan

Amina’s Song is a companion novel to Hena Khan’s excellent Amina’s Voice (2017). Sometimes companion novels can feel like odd afterthoughts, addendums that might be welcome and enjoyable, but otherwise not really necessary. With Amina’s Song, this is not at all the case. The novel is just as powerful, important, and compelling as its predecessor. Just as she was in her first book, Amina is a wonderfully relatable, gloriously unique protagonist. However, Khan hasn’t just picked up right where she left her character at the end of the last book – Amina has grown since we left her, and continues to grow as Khan masterfully explores her complicated heart and mind.

One last thing to note about both of the Amina books is their length. Amina’s Voice is just under 200 pages – which is on the shorter side for contemporary, realistic Middle Grade novels. However, for many readers, that is something that made it especially attractive, and I believe that made the book accessible for a larger, broader audience. Amina’s Song is somewhat longer than Amina’s Voice – though still under 300 pages – but this works beautifully, as the readers who choose to continue reading Amina’s story will be pushed to complete a book that might be longer than they usually read, thereby building their confidence as readers. And there’s no way those who pick up this book won’t finish it. Khan is too gifted a storyteller. The taut plot and fine-tuned prose will keep kids reading until the end.

Note: While one certainly does not need to read Amina’s Voice in order to enjoy and get a lot out of Amina’s Song, the latter will be richer and more meaningful if readers are familiar with the former.

Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerds, Revenge of the EngiNerds, The EngiNerds Strike Back, Geeger the Robot Goes to School, and Geeger the Robot: Lost and Found, as well as the author-illustrator of the activity book Give This Book a Title. Jarrett is also the author-illustrator of the forthcoming activity book Give This Book a Cover and the forthcoming Hunger Heroes graphic novel series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com and on Twitter and Instragram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives with his family in Medford, Massachusetts.

Book Review: SHIRLEY CHISHOLM (YOU SHOULD MEET), by Laurie Calkhoven, illustrated by Shea O’Connor

Simon Spotlight’s You Should Meet series offer fantastic introductions to and explorations of a variety of important historical and contemporary individuals. While highly informative, they are also wonderfully inspirational. Lauren Calkhoven and Shea O’Connor’s Shirley Chisholm is a fabulous example of this.

While some educators, librarians, and parents may, based on their format and design, deem the You Should Meet books “too young” for a Middle Grade audience, I think they are, in fact, perfect for them. The short chapters and abundant (and beautiful!) illustrations make these books accessible to younger and emerging readers, and offer older and more confident readers an opportunity to quickly explore a figure and/or subject that, if they so choose, they can then dive into more deeply.

The You Should Meet books also have excellent back matter, explaining sometimes dense, difficult subjects in a clear, succinct manner. Shirley Chisholm features a section about the three branches of the United States’ government, plus information about voting. For all of these reasons and more, this volume of the You Should Meet series belongs in elementary and even middle school classrooms and libraries. Every child should know the story of Shirley Chisholm, and this book shares that story in a wonderful, accessible way.

Jarrett Lerner is the author of EngiNerdsRevenge of the EngiNerdsThe EngiNerds Strike Back, Geeger the Robot Goes to School, and Geeger the Robot: Lost and Found, as well as the author-illustrator of the activity book Give This Book a Title. Jarrett is also the author-illustrator of the forthcoming activity book Give This Book a Cover and the forthcoming Hunger Heroes graphic novel series (all published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin). He cofounded and helps run the MG Book Village, an online hub for all things Middle Grade, and is the co-organizer of the #KidsNeedBooks and #KidsNeedMentors projects. He can be found at jarrettlerner.com and on Twitter and Instragram at @Jarrett_Lerner. He lives with his family in Medford, Massachusetts.