81 Days Below Zero by Brian Murphy

Mom Says:

I really enjoyed this nonfiction account of Leon Crane, of the US Army Air Force, whose plane went down in the Alaskan wilderness. It’s a story of perseverance, survival and a bit of luck. I learned a lot about the WWII effort in Alaska (I had no idea!) and the history of the gold rush and how Alaska was “created”.

This will appeal to readers who love stories of adventure, war or aviation.

It’s written for a general audience but I could definitely recommend it to middle and high school students.

Recommended for 6th grade and up


Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

8136985.jpgMaya says: I really did not like this book. It was a very short book, but it took me a while to read because it was very slow and boring. It is an American classic and my mom wanted me to read it but I was not a fan of it. There is some swearing and it is in old fashioned language and the ending was not great at all. This book is about 2 men, George and Lennie. Lennie is special needs, and he always stays with George. Lennie and George were kicked out of the last ranch due to an incident Lennie caused, so now they have to find a new ranch to work at. When they make it to another job, they meet new friends there, but they also meet some not so nice people. The book is about George and Lennie’s experience working there. One good thing about the book is that it really shows what life was like back then for migrant workers.

I recommend this book for grades: 9th-12th

Mom says: I read this in between high school and college because I liked the movie with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise so much. I liked it well enough at that time. But reading now, as an older adult interested in the American past and literature, I liked it so much more (and it is a very quick read:). I’m glad Maya got through it. Even though she didn’t enjoy reading it I think she understood it’s value and got something from it. She was able to get a sense of the harsh lifestyle of the time and could empathize with the tragic results that took place among the characters.

I recommend this book for grades: 9th to adult

To Stay Alive by Skila Brown


Mom says:    This is a novel told in verse. It takes a few pages to get used you to but then you don’t even realize except you are flying through the pages.

The subject of the story is a family’s journey across the America from Illinois to California in 1846. The main character is from the Graves family who was part of the wagon train of the famous Donner Party who tragically got stranded in the mountains during an early winter and had to struggle to survive.

If you know the story of The Donner Party, you know what comes next. But Brown treats it very well through the eyes of Mary Ann Graves.

Maya asked me why I wanted to read a story like this (and said ‘no way’ when I told her she should read it). Good question, one I had to think about before finally answering: I like to read about bravery, I like to read about average people who persevere and fight to survive. I like to read about how much the human body and spirit can endure and the strength of mind, the will it takes to survive.

This was a beautifully written story and one that I hope will inspire young people to look for more books on The Donner Party and their covered wagon migration across our country before the time of cars, electronics and microwaves, when books were prized possessions and when girls wore dresses and petticoats while fetching water from the well or river to help their mother cook.

Recommended for grades 6 to 9


See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

Mom Says:

This is the story of a boy named Alex who is 11 but “the responsibility age of 13”. His hero is Carl Sagan and he is obsessed with anything space related–which I loved. He goes on a journey where he meets adults who stop their lives to help him along the way. The entire book is told in the “voice recordings” on his IPod he plans to send into space so aliens can learn about life on earth(I hear the audio version is amazing). Because of the audio diary format, we are mostly in his head and I feel it was mostly telling and it limited our knowledge of what might really have been going on at times or what others were thinking.

All in all, it was worth reading but not my favorite of recent.

(And for those of you excited about the dog on the cover…he’s gone for 1/2 the book:(

Recommended for 5th to 8th grade

Alex Rider Series by Anthony Horowitz

136782.jpg224500.jpgThis series is one of my favorites! I am still in the process of reading them–there are 10 or 11 books in the series and I am half way through book 4. I love the series so much it is very hard for me to put it down. The books are also not very thick so it does not take to long to read. The series is about a boy named Alex Rider. When Alex is little his parents die in a car crash and he is sent to live with his uncle. His uncle takes Alex to lots of exciting places things like scuba diving in Mexico, and going on safari’s in Africa. One day, Alex’s uncle unexpectedly dies. The police say it 94319.jpgwas a car crash. but Alex suspects something else and is soon involved in something huge. Alex finds out that his uncle was a spy, and now Alex is being recruited as well. In the first book, Alex is sent to find out what is really going on at Sayle Enterprises, a company making the newest and best computer. In the second book, Alex is sent undercover as a celebrity’s son to a private school in France to find out if there is a connection between 2 families deaths that have been revolved around the 542414.jpgschool. Then book 3 is about a Russian general, who may have a nuclear bomb, ready to explode. Alex wants nothing to do with the spy community but somehow he keeps getting involved. 175004.jpg

I recommend for 5th to 8th grades

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

Maya Says:


This was a really great book. It was really interesting, sometimes sad, but sometimes funny, and it was a really quick read. Orbiting Jupiter is about a boy named Jack, who has a foster brother, Joseph. Jack and his family decide to foster Joseph, on thing they did not know about Joseph, is that he has a daughter. Joseph is desperate to find his daughter, Jupiter. When Joseph comes to live with Jack and his family on their farm, Joseph helps milk the cows, he goes ice skating with Jack, he goes to school, Joseph is starting to feel like he is part of the family. Then one day, he unexpectedly goes missing. Jack knows he is going to find Jupiter. Joseph is missing for a while. Will Jack and his family ever be able to find him?

I recommend this book for grades: 7th-9th

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

Mom Says:

23615709.jpgI really enjoyed this middle grade novel. It was hard to put down and I really got into the characters. There are several threads of story going on, one of which is told in the 2nd person perspective (not my favorite but I somehow loved it here) and is somewhat of a fun mystery not revealed until the very end. The author is great at dialogue and moving the story along. She tackled important issues with a light hand and a lovable way (if that makes sense). I loved the relationship between Bridge and her friends and Bridge and her brother and Sherm and Bridge; it gave me a warm feeling of remembrance. I think I just really loved Bridge:)

Recommended for grades 7-10