Books for a long weekend: Five favourites for middle grade readers

Penguin Random House Canada sent me the following books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and from the heart. 

This summer’s been hotter than pearls in a pawn shop and I can’t say I’m sad it’s nearly over. I’m all for fall and cozy sweaters and piles of books to read without that annoying voice in my head telling me I should be outside enjoying the sun. (It burns! It burns! LOL.) Today I want to catch you up on some recent and recent(ish) releases your kids might want to tuck into this long weekend, five books for middle grade readers that made the grade with us. First, a mega cute tale out earlier this month, Anna Humphrey’s Megabat.

Megabat and Lily

Here’s the description from the publisher:

A sweet and hilarious chapter book about a boy and a bat, two unlikely friends who bond over loneliness, jellyrolls and Darth Vader.

Daniel Misumi has just moved to a new house. It’s big and old and far away from his friends and his life before. AND it’s haunted . . . or is it?

Megabat was just napping on a papaya one day when he was stuffed in a box and shipped halfway across the world. Now he’s living in an old house far from home, feeling sorry for himself and accidentally scaring the people who live there. 

Daniel realizes it’s not a ghost in his new house. It’s a bat. And he can talk. And he’s actually kind of cute. 

Megabat realizes that not every human wants to whack him with a broom. This one shares his smooshfruit. 

Add some buttermelon, juice boxes, a lightsaber and a common enemy and you’ve got a new friendship in the making!

My nine-year-old read Megabat first, powering through it one afternoon while I was on the computer. As soon as it was done, he put it in my hands and insisted I read it immediately. “This is the cutest book I’ve ever read. But there’s some sad parts, do you want me to tell you?” he asked. I said I’d like to be surprised and promised to read it later. And honestly, I put it off for a day or two because bats creep me out but dang it if that bat didn’t have me at hello. (Or rather the drip drip dripping of his homesick tears.) It’s a sweet story about friendship that you can imagine happening in real life (even with a talking bat), with some twists that make the story go in a different direction than you’d expect. And the most awesome thing is it’s part of a new series, with a second book (Megabat and Fancy Cat) to come next spring.

Where's Waldo Games on the Go

Where’s Waldo? Games on the Go!: Puzzles, Activities and Searches by Martin Handford

Perfect for Waldo watchers on the go! This travel activity book is packed with truly terrific puzzles, quizzes, mazes, and searches — plus a foldout Waldo board game. The fun never stops with WHERE’s WALDO?

This is a great book for a road trip, with lots of activities (and even a few corny jokes) to keep kids busy for a while. I think some of the details in the pictures are a bit difficult to make out and would prefer a larger format, ‘tho it wouldn’t be as portable. We like the back pocket for the board game and the elastic closure. Recommended for kids aged 5 to 9, but I think kids up to 11 or 12 would get a kick out of it too.

The Lifters Dave Eggers close up

I’ll pick up anything Dave Eggers puts down, and now my guys think he’s pretty rad too. They were totally enchanted with his first book for kids, The Lifters (recco’d for ages 8 to 12).

When Gran and his family move to Carousel, he has no idea that the town is built atop a secret. Little does he suspect, as he walks his sister to school or casually eats a banana, that mysterious forces lurk mere inches beneath his feet, tearing up the earth like mini-hurricanes and causing the town to slowly but surely sink.

When Gran’s friend, the difficult-to-impress Catalina Catalan, presses a silver handle into a hillside and opens a doorway to underground, he knows that she is extraordinary and brave, and that he will have no choice but to follow wherever she leads. With luck on their side, and some discarded hockey sticks for good measure, Gran and Catalina might just find a way to lift their town–and the known world–out of danger.

I found The Lifters painfully slow for the first long while but my 9- and 11-year-old were into it from the start and loved the idea of a world beneath our feet. It would make a great audiobook for a road trip. You’d miss the wonderful illustrations but the writing paints vivid pictures on its own. Two thumbs up from the kids and a 7 out of 10 for me.

This Moment Is Your Life by Mariam Gates

This Moment Is Your Life (And So Is This One): A Fun and Easy Guide to Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga by Mariam Gates

The key to happiness is being able to find comfort in this moment, here and now. When you are completely present and not distracted by regrets, worries, and plans, even for a little while, you begin to feel more confident and can deal more easily with everything you experience. This is mindfulness: paying attention to this very moment, on purpose and without judgment–simply being present with curiosity.

This engaging guide, packed with simple exercises and endearing full-color artwork, provides a handy starting point for bringing mindfulness into your daily life. Chapters on meditation, yoga, and mindful breathing explain the benefits of these practices, and you are free to pick and choose what to try. There are quick exercises throughout, and a more extensive tool kit at the end of each chapter. The final chapter offers satisfying five-day challenges that map out ways to pull all of the book’s mindfulness techniques together in your day-to-day life.

With the appeal of a workbook or guided journal, and full of examples relevant to tweens and teens today, this book will be your trusted companion as you begin the valuable, stress-relieving work of being still with skill.

I feel like the description on the back of the book speaks more to adults than tweens (and maybe that makes sense since more adults probably buy it for their kids than tweens and teens for themselves) and I think that does a disservice to one of my favourite things about This Moment Is Your Life: that it really gets its audience. The language, illustrations and exercises are perfectly on point for tweenagers and whisked me back to that age.  “You are learning history, math, science, English, and maybe even how to speak another language. But you don’t have a class on how to handle your thoughts and feelings. There aren’t instructions for how to take care of yourself and manage your complicated life,” says the author. Lily’s going into grade six this year and just started practicing some of the exercises. If they’ll help her develop some skills to make the next few years a little less tumultuous and a little more joyful, I’m all for it. It think it would be a great book for parents and kids to read and practice together.

“There’s a story about two monks walking from one village to another. They come upon a woman who can’t get past a muddy section of the road. The older monk puts the woman on his back and carries her over the mud. The whole time she is berating him for being too slow and for splashing her. When they get to the other side, he puts her down, and the two monks walk on.

An hour later the older monk asks the younger one why he looks upset. “That woman was so rude to you,” he answers. “My friend,” says the older monk. “I put that woman down an hour ago. You are still carrying her.” — This Moment Is Your Life (And So Is This One): A Fun and Easy Guide to Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga

Calling All Minds by Temple Grandin ARC

Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor by Temple Grandin

Have you ever wondered what makes a kite fly or a boat float? Have you ever thought about why snowflakes are symmetrical, or why golf balls have dimples? Have you ever tried to make a kaleidoscope or build a pair of stilts?

In Calling All Minds, Temple Grandin explores the ideas behind all of those questions and more. She delves into the science behind inventions, the steps various people took to create and improve upon ideas as they evolved, and the ways in which young inventors can continue to think about and understand what it means to tinker, to fiddle, and to innovate. And laced throughout it all, Temple gives us glimpses into her own childhood tinkering, building, and inventing.

More than a blueprint for how to build things, in Calling All Minds Temple Grandin creates a blueprint for different ways to look at the world. And more than a call to action, she gives a call to imagination, and shows readers that there is truly no single way to approach any given problem — but that an open and inquisitive mind is always key.

Calling All Minds encourages kids to embrace the joy of making with 25 experiments with paper, wood, levers and pulleys, things that fly and optical illusions, from familiar favourites like paper airplanes and paper snowflakes to new-to-us projects like a marionette and a solar system diorama. Most can be made using materials already on hand — which we love — and Grandin does a great job explaining in complex concepts in relatable terms. That said, it’s a lot of information to digest so I can see younger readers glossing over some of the text (particularly the history lessons) to get to the activities. (I had to read some of the passages a few times before they sunk in.)

What are your kids reading these days? Which of these books do you think they’d enjoy?