The Secret is Out: Maxi is Outstanding!

After returning today from a week’s vacation on the Schoodic peninsula in Acadia National Park, I’m a day late for an “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” post.  However, I’m just in time to wish a Happy Book Birthday to Lynn Plourde for her new book, Maxi’s Secrets (Or, What You Can Learn From a Dog).   I was so excited to read Lynn’s first middle grade novel after enjoying her many picture books over the years and Maxi’s Secrets did not disappoint!

It’s the story of a boy, Timminy Harris, whose family moves from the city of Portland to a more rural town in Maine, where his dad has taken a job as the new assistant principal at Timminy’s middle school.  The fifth grader’s small stature and wisecracking, yet self-deprecating attitude make him a magnet for bullies, but when his parents try to ease the impact of the move on him by getting a new puppy, Timminy’s world gets turned upside down.  You see, the Great Pyrenees pup, Maxi, is deaf.  Timminy tries to teach Maxi everything he can to keep her safe, but in the end, it’s Maxi who teaches Timminy important lessons about life, friendship, and bravery.

Normally, I’d insert a “spoiler alert” here, but Lynn puts it out there for the reader in the first two sentences of the book- Maxi dies.  And truthfully, I wasn’t sure how I would proceed after reading that, knowing what was ultimately going to happen, but the story pulled me in.  I found myself connecting with the Maine elements sprinkled throughout the text, and even more importantly, I connected with the characters and how their own issues, dreams, and storylines were woven into Maxi’s tale.  There’s Abby, the Harris’ blind neighbor who is too young for a guide dog, but yearns for more independence, Rory, another neighbor, a.k.a, The Big Jerk, who is seemingly Timminy’s worst nightmare of a bully, and a cadre of other Maine middle schoolers who want to be liked and accepted- just like any tween.

Lynn’s experience in the school setting as an educator herself, along with the tons of encounters she has with kids during her author visits have given her the perfect voice to write this story.  I laughed at the middle school humor and yes, cried when Maxi passed.  This book transported me back to my own middle school days, and carried me back through times when I’ve had to say goodbye to beloved family pets. But perhaps it is the way Lynn confronts these issues head-on that I most appreciate.  Kids want truth and honesty from life and books and Maxi’s Secrets offers just that.

I’ll be heading to one of Lynn’s launch signings tomorrow afternoon at Books ‘n Things in Norway.  I hope to see you there!  For more information on where you can find all things Maxi, as well as information on Lynn’s newest upcoming picture book, Bella’s Fall Coat, check out her website at www.lynnplourde.com . You can also find her author page on Facebook.

Happy Book Birthday, Maxi! 

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“It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?”

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Please be sure to check out the Teach.Mentor.Text and Unleashing Readers blogs by Jen & Kellee, the creators of this meme, for other bloggers participating in “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?”

This Monday I’ve been reading an ARC for my #bookaday challenge that I got from Simon & Schuster at the recent ILA Conference in Boston.  Frances O’Roark Dowell, author of the Phineas L. MacGuire series and many other titles, has written a charming, heartwarming tale about a boy with a plan. In Sam the Man & the Chicken Plan, Sam Graham is a seven-year-old in search of employment.  Both his parents and his older sister, Annabelle have jobs, and when their  neighbor, Mrs. Kerner, needs someone to watch her chickens while she’s away, Sam sees his opportunity.  Admittedly, I was drawn to this book because of my love-hate relationship with our own chickens.  Slowly, they’re helping me overcome my small phobia of winged creatures, so I found myself empathizing with Sam as he strived to become an expert, in order to do his best as chicken caretaker.

We also meet several other people in Sam’s community, including Sam’s teacher, Mr. Pell, his classmates, and Sam’s bus driver, Miss Louise.  But it’s Sam’s other neighbor, Judy, and her cranky old dad, Mr. Stockfish, who help teach Sam that true happiness doesn’t cost a thing.

Dowell has created a funny, curious main character that readers will root for from beginning to end.  Sam the Man & the Chicken Plan arrives in bookstores next month and the follow-up text in the series, Sam the Man & the Rutabaga Plan is scheduled for release next winter.

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“Five Stars for ‘A Handful of Stars’ by Cynthia Lord”

ARCs (advance reader copies) of books are a publisher’s way of promoting and spreading the word about an author’s upcoming work and believe me when I tell you, I consider myself a truly lucky reader whenever I have access to one. It’s like being in on an incredibly awesome secret when I get to read a copy of a yet-to-be-published piece of writing. Usually I acquire ARCs at regional and national conferences, but every once in a while, I am fortunate to personally communicate with an author, which makes reading their stories even more special.

Such was the case when I responded to a post on social media by Cynthia Lord, author of Rules, Touch Blue, and the Hot Rod Hamster and Shelter Pet Squad series.  Cynthia had received a few ARCs of her newest book, A Handful of Stars, set to be released on May 26th this year. She proposed the idea of a book vine, sending the ARCs “on tour” to lucky readers willing to enjoy them for two weeks and then pass them along to the next reader on the list.

Last week, I received a copy of A Handful of Stars from my “nerdy book friend,” Kate Sullivan, who was ahead of me on the book vine.  I eagerly opened up the package and began reading right away. One thing I’ve learned from reading Cynthia’s books is that I like to have my writer’s notebook nearby. I have a whole section dedicated to capturing memorable, powerful quotes from my favorite authors. As I turned the pages of her latest book, I was glad I had notebook and pen handy.  A Handful of Stars is a story filled with inspiration, friendship, and bravery.

Lily meets Salma, the daughter of migrant workers, in Maine for the blueberry harvest, quite by luck- her dog, Lucky, that is. When Lucky, Lily’s blind black lab, takes off running across the blueberry barrens, the only thing that slows him down is the smell of Salma’s peanut butter sandwich.  From there, a friendship is born.Lily and Salma share not only a friendship, but a sense of life’s losses and the hope of being ‘just a little bit braver than [they] are scared.” It’s hard, though, when an old friend of Lily’s re-enters the picture and Lily feels torn between her new friend Salma, who’s helping her raise money for an operation to restore Lucky’s sight, and Hannah, who’s been a bit pre-occupied lately, but has been her friend since the first day of kindergarten.

Will Salma harness her strengths and be named the first migrant queen of the blueberry pageant? Does Lily raise the money for Lucky’s surgery and is she brave enough to tell Hannah how she really feels?   As Lily’s Pepere says, “Giving up and letting go are two very different things… Giving up is admitting you’re beat and walking away. Letting go means you’re setting something free. You’re releasing something that’s been keeping you stuck. That takes faith and more than a little courage.”

Yup, that’s in my notebook. 🙂

As I drop the ARC into its mailing envelope and affix the address label to send it on its way back to Cynthia, I smile, and flip from the quote section of my notebook to the section titled, “My Book Bucket List.” I add A Handful of Stars and draw five tiny stars beside it.  I can’t wait to share it with the young readers in my school this spring!

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