Movie Review: Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer



Directed by: John Schultz

MPAA Rating: PG

Interest Range: 8-10

Genre: Comedy

Plot: Judy Moody had the perfect plan for making the summer after third grade their best one yet- a competition for who could complete the most thrilling dares, the goal being 100 thrill points and proving their summer was full of exciting and memorable happenings. But then two of her closest friends are leaving for the summer, one for circus camp and the other to the rainforests of Borneo. And if that wasn’t enough, Judy’s parents have to leave town to help out their extended family so their yearly trip to Grandma’s house isn’t happening. Instead, Aunt Opal is coming to stay and Judy will be stuck at home with her annoying younger brother, Stink, and her most boring friend, Frank. Judy changes her plan and emails her friends to tell them the thrills are now a race, and the first to 100 points wins- but how will she ever compete with learning to saw people in half and hanging out with monkeys?

Review: This movie was cute, and certainly points to something kids this age are worried about. Summer is supposed to be full of fun and exciting things that you can then brag about to your friends when you head back to school. Often there is nothing more dismal than looking ahead to a summer full of nothing. But Judy shows us how just a normal summer at home, where you think nothing is happening at all, can actually be full of quite a few thrills. It’s just what you make of it. Judy seems to be portrayed as a pretty honest 8 or 9 year old, she wants adventure and is often frustrated with her family and disappointed by her friends. She has her own sense of style, and her best friend is a boy. She’s not annoying to watch, and doesn’t seem to be some kind of caricature of a tween, although she’s definitely not going through anything too personal in this story. Ultimately, this movie made me want to take a closer look at the Judy Moody series of books. I wonder how well they adapted the main character to the screen.

Themes: Changes at Home, Building New Relationships, Humor

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Judy Moody: The title character, Judy has just gotten out of the third grade. Her friends have abandoned her for more exciting summers and Judy is left at home wondering what to do. On a few separate occasions, she decides to give up and spend the rest of the summer in her bedroom because NOTHING exciting ever happens to her. But eventually, she realizes it’s all what you make of it and she decides to turn her summer around.

Stink Moody: Judy’s little brother, who is currently obsessed with Bigfoot. The rumor of Bigfoot in the area has gotten Stink all riled up and he is convinced that he will capture the beast this summer. He’s even joined a Bigfoot Believers club.

Aunt Opal: Judy’s aunt, who they haven’t seen in many years, is in town and charged with taking care of the kids while their parents  are gone. Aunt Opal describes herself as a guerrilla artist and teaches Judy the importance of enjoying the moment and making something out of what you have in front of you. She also seems to be followed by small disasters.

Frank: Judy’s one friend who has remained in town this summer. Unfortunately, Frank is probably the least brave of the 4-member Toad Pee club and not the best match for Judy’s thrill-seeking adventures.

Bibliographic Info:

Schultz, J.(Director), Luther, B. S. (Producer), Magness, G. (Producer), & Siegel-Magness, S. (Producer). (2011). Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer [Motion picture]. United States: Smokewood Entertainment.


“Be careful what you wish for.”


The Tale of Despereaux


Author: Kate DiCamillo

Age Range: 7-12 (Kirkus Reviews)

Interest Range: 7-12

Genre: Fantasy

Plot: This is the story of a very tiny mouse who was a disappointment to his family. He was smaller than he should have been, and terrible at everything a mouse should be good at. He was strange, and the other mice did not understand his ways. But Despereaux was special: he could read! And his ability introduced him to the importance of story, and the idea of knights and princesses and duty and honor. So when he finally met a real life princess, it makes perfect sense that he fell in love with the human girl and knew he would do everything it took to honor her. This is also the story of how other people wished to take revenge on the princess, and ultimately how Despereaux was tested to see how far his love for the princess could carry him. Will a tiny little mouse be able to brave the dungeon and ultimately save the princess from her terrible fate?

Review: This book was incredibly sweet. I loved the approach, telling the story from each of the main characters’ points of view  (Despereaux, Chiaroscuro, and Miggery Sow) and allowing you to see each of their personal pasts before telling you how they all three were wound together. I also enjoyed the sense of humor and repeating tendency to directly address the reader and invite them to make the story more personal (check your dictionary for definitions, relate the story to your own experience, etc.). The main character might be a mouse, but he is very much humanized and I think very easy for children to relate to. It is common to feel like you don’t fit in with your family, to feel different from your own kind and sometimes not realize that those differences are alright (even good), and can be used to your advantage or as strengths. And the emphasis of the importance and value of “story” and “light” is ultimately uplifting and encouraging.

Themes: Being Different, Light vs. Dark, Coming of Age, Prejudice (species, in this case)

Additional Info:

Awards: Newbery Medal Winner in 2004

Adaptations: This book was made into an animated film in 2008.

Main Characters:

Despereaux: A mouse, smaller than normal and very different form all of the other mice in the castle. After letting himself be seen by the King and even be touched by the Princess Pea, Despereaux is turned in by his own brother and father and exiled to the dungeon by the Council of Mice (basically a death sentence). But when meeting the princess, Despereaux fell in love with her and will fight to get back to the light and keep her safe from harm.

Chiaroscuro: A rat, born in darkness but desiring a life filled with light. When he finally gets to experience it, he is shunned and sent back to the darkness where he begins to plot his revenge on the Princess. He is forever obsessed with the brilliance and beauty of the light, and ultimately will try to capture the Princess and teach her a lesson.

Miggery Sow: An unlucky girl who was sold into slavery by her father after her own mother’s death. Miggery is often beaten, to the point of losing her hearing. Unfortunately, she is also not very smart and quite lazy. After seeing the Princess Pea on her seventh birthday, her only wish is to also be a princess.  Instead, she ends up working in the castle and is eventually tricked into helping Chiaroscuro take his revenge on the Princess Pea.

Princess Pea: The Princess of the castle, still dealing with the passing of her mother. Princess Pea is fond of Despereaux and becomes angry with her father for not allowing her to befriend the mouse. She becomes the object of Despereaux’s affection, Miggery Sow’s dreams, and Chiaroscuro’s revenge.

Bibliographic Info:

DiCamillo, K. (2003). The Tale of Despereaux. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.


Despereaux is a very different mouse. But often being different just means you’re destined for adventure.

The Sisters Grimm

Author: Michael Buckley

Age Range: 10-12 (Kirkus)

Interest Range: 8-12

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

Plot: Sabrina and Daphne are pros at breaking out of foster homes. Ever since their parents disappeared, they’ve been escaping from each bad situation and getting back to the orphanage as quick as possible. But this time it’s different. This time, the woman they’re going to be living with claims to be their real grandmother. But that can’t be true, because Sabrina and Daphne have known for years that their grandmother is dead. That’s what their parents said. And this lady also seems to believe that fairy tales are real. Not only real, but that she’s surrounded by them. Granny Relda believes that the town of Ferry Port Landing is crawling with fairy tales, and that it is her job to sort out all of these Everafters’ mysteries. Is she really their grandmother? Will she be able to help the girls find their parents? And just WHAT is going on with all these fairy tale reminiscent characters? Is anyone in this town sane?

Review: Being a huge fan of fairy tales, I absolutely loved this book and the others in the series that I have read so far (at this point I’m on #4). Sabrina and Daphne are two very different girls, and both very set in their ways. Sabrina is skeptical, often so much that it can blind her to the truth. Daphne is trusting, and wants very much to settle into this amazing new existence that she has found. As the books progress, they begin to deal with the issue of prejudice. Sabrina believes that all of the Everafters are horrible and not to be trusted. This often comes back to bite her and is a big part of the third book. I’m curious to see how this plays out over the course of the series. They also deal a lot with the idea of right and wrong with respect to the use of magic, which is interesting since magic is such a popular topic in much middle grade fiction right now. Lovers of fairy tales will have more fun with this series than those who are not as familiar with folklore. Many references will go over readers’ heads if they don’t already have a working knowledge of the best known fairy tale stories.

Themes: Changes at Home, Homelessness, Building New Relationships,

Additional Info:

Series Info: This is book 1 in a 9-book series, which has been completely published at this writing.

Main Characters:

Sabrina Grimm: The older of the two sisters, Sabrina is focused on finding their parents and interested in nothing else. She refuses to believe that this new woman is their grandmother and cannot believe that she would be silly enough to believe that fairy tales are real.

Daphne Grimm: Daphne wants very much to believe that Granny Relda is really their relative and that Ferry Port Landing is really full of Everafters. She delves into the detective work and wants very much to take on the family job of keeping the Everafters in line.

Granny Relda: The mother of the girls’ father, she really is their grandmother. Relda wants to convince the girls to believe her and have them help her with her detective work. She is slightly odd, but who wouldn’t be when they’ve spent their life surrounded by real-life fairy tales? She also wants to find her son and his wife, but is taking a more careful approach, which is not enough for Sabrina.

Bibliographic Info:

Buckley, M. (2007). The Fairy-Tale Detectives. New York: Amulet Books.


The Grimm sisters are about to realize that their family history is not as simple as they thought. When faced with real-life fairy tales, what would you do?

Dark Lord: The Early Years


Author: Jamie Thomson

Age Range: 9-14 (Kirkus reviews)

Interest Range: 9-14

Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Humor

Plot: Dirk Lloyd has been hit by a car and lapsed into some kind of amnesia- at least that’s what he was told after waking up in a supermarket parking lot and being rushed to a hospital. But Dirk knows exactly who he is: The Dark Lord from the Iron Tower of Despair at the Gates of Doom, from the Dark Lands. The white wizard has sent him here to earth and trapped him in the body of a 12-year-old boy because it was the only way to defeat him, and now no one believes him. The child psychologists think he’s created some elaborate fantasy to deal with a traumatic event- they even try hypnotizing him to find out the real story! But after months of living in a foster home and learning how to navigate the seventh grade as a puny human boy, Dirk isn’t changing his tune. But he is managing to learn how to show affection and gain ::gasp:: friends instead of minions. Is Dirk faking, or is he really from another world, full of orcs and goblins?

Review: I loved this book! Between the humor and the references to movies and role playing games, there were very well done discussions on bullying, going to therapy, navigating inter-group relations at school, dealing with the powerless feeling of being a kid. It’s hard to be the nerd, especially when you’re so lost in your world that you can’t help but let it come out sometimes. Dirk lets his flag fly high, and gains friends in the process. His closest friends end up spanning three very different groups: a goth girl, a very normal boy, and the most attractive and popular jock in the seventh grade. His unwillingness to back down in the face of bullies is inspiring, and his interactions with the child psychologists are frustrating and (I would imagine) pretty spot-on for most kids. This book might appeal to a very different kind of kid- or at the very least let those who are always focused on the good guys take a walk on the dark side. Like Dirk always says “Why is it always for goodness’ sake? Why can’t it be for evil’s sake? For evil’s sake!”

Themes: Bullying, Illness, Changes at Home, Building New Relationships

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Dirk Lloyd: The Dark Lord, or so he believes. The adults are trying to tell him he’s been hit by a car and just cannot remember his real name, parents, or anything about his past. But Dirk is convinced he was fighting a war in his home, the Dark Lands, and was banished by a white wizard. Now he’s been placed in a foster home and must start attending school like any other normal kid. But Dirk is anything but normal, and his teachers and fellow students don’t quite know what to think.

Christopher Purejoie: The son of Dirk’s new foster parents. Chris and Dirk eventually manage to become friends. Chris even earns the title “Mouth of Dirk” for his wonderful ability to act as translator between Dirk and his surroundings.

Susan Black: Upon first meeting her, Dirk mistakes Sooz for a vampire- even addressing her loudly as “Child of the Night” and disrupting class. But Sooz is a goth, not a vampire, and really likes Dirk. I mean, really likes him. She even decides to take the heat when the three of them (Sooz, Dirk, and Chris) get in some major trouble.

Sal Malik: The most popular jock in the seventh grade. His interests lie mostly in Baseball and Soccer, and Dirk only manages to earn his friendship when he displays his strength in tactics. Soon the two are meeting secretly to come up with plans on how to crush the competition. Dirk even promises Sal the position of Lord High Overseer of the Armies of Darkness, due to his physical prowess.

All three sidekicks are certain that Dirk is crazy and just coming up with stories. They know he believes every word he says, but none of them actually thinks he’s telling the truth.

Bibliographic Info:

Thomson, J. (2012). Dark Lord: The Early Years. New York: Walker Publishing Company, Inc.


Dirk Lloyd is from another plane of existence, but for now he’s trapped on Earth in the body of a puny 12-year-old boy. How’s a real Dark Lord supposed to take over anything when his magic stops working and he’s reduced to a child?

Invisible Inkling

Author: Emily Jenkins

Age Range: 7-10 (Kirkus Review)

Interest Range: 7-10

Genre: Fantasy,  Magical Realism

Plot: Hank Wolowitz is not looking forward to the fourth grade. His best friend Alexander has moved away and he is facing the year without any real friends to share it with. But one day, he feels something. It’s fur, under the counter. And then again when the neighbor’s dog just won’t stop barking at an empty corner. Eventually he discovers Inkling, an invisible bandapat who has traveled to Brooklyn in search of the Big R0und Pumpkin, because he really loves squash. But the Big Round Pumpkin isn’t a vegetable at all, it’s Hank’s parent’s ice cream shop. Despite the disappointment, Inkling sticks around to help Hank- since he owes him for having saved his life. Hank’s got problems at school. And when Bruno Gillicut decides that Hank is the perfect person to push around, Inkling comes to the rescue. Will an invisible creature really be able to stand up to a big bully? Or will Hank be forced to pay the sprinkle tax for the rest of eternity?

Review: This was a very cute story about a very real problem. Hank is a lonely kid who is floundering because his best friend is gone. Before he has time to bounce back and find himself with other kids, in comes Bruno. Hank even does what he is supposed to: he talks to the lunch aides, he talks to his teacher. But the lunch aides never see Bruno at work, and Hank’s teacher is too concerned with the fact that Bruno’s family is having problems at home. And maybe Hank should try to befriend Bruno, but Bruno isn’t making it easy. Hank even realizes it when he goes too far, insulting Bruno in a fit of anger by saying something that hits a little to close to that sore spot at home. He feels horrible, and not just because of the beating he knows is coming his way, but because he sunk to Bruno’s level. Eventually, it is Hank that gets in trouble with the school, not Bruno. But Bruno decides to leave Hank alone. Was it the invisible creature that bit the bully, or did Hank really act out enough to scare the boy off? I guess we’ll never know.

Themes: Bullying, Making new Friends

Additional Info:

Main Characters:

Hank Wolowitz: A 9-year-old boy who finds an invisible creature and decides to keep him as a kind of pet. This comes with great timing, since Hank’s best friend has recently moved away. But when Inkling decides he needs to move on in search of more squash, Hank has to face the possibility of losing a friend all over again.

Inkling: An invisible bandapat, we’re unsure of where he comes from since every time he tells a story it’s a new lie. But he makes Hank’s life interesting and Hank appreciates the company.

Nadia: Hank’s older sister, she works sometimes at the ice cream shop and also walks the neighbors’ dogs for extra cash.

Bruno Gilligcut: The fourth-grade bully. The teachers are convinced that he’s just having a rough time at home (his parents have recently split-up) and are looking the other way.

Ms. Cherry: Hank’s 4th grade teacher, who is convinced that no one is your enemy, but only a friend waiting to happen. Ms. Cherry never happens to see when Bruno is exacting his sprinkle tax on Hank or generally stealing his lunch and making his life miserable. She eventually sites Hank as the source of the problem and gets him in trouble. But it’s not entirely her fault, she couldn’t see that the real biter was an invisible creature who was standing up for Hank.

Bibliographic Info:

Jenkins, E. (2011). Invisible Inkling. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.


Not everybody is lucky enough to know an invisible bandapat, but Hank is. And this one owes him a debt- big time.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Author: Stephan Pastis

Age Range: 9-12

Interest Range: 9-12

Genre: Realistic Fiction, Humor

Plot: Timmy Failure is a genius, a model of greatness, and a world-class detective. Too bad no one else sees it. He is forced to go through school, even though it is a waste of his precious time- time that could be spent working on his business, Total Failure, Inc., which is surely soon to go global. Timmy spends his free-time solving crimes for school friends with his sidekick, a polar bear named Total who does little more than eat chicken nuggets. But things aren’t all great: when his mother finds out about his failing grades she threatens to shut down the agency, and then there’s the Girl Who Must Not Be Named who runs a competing detective agency in town. Will Timmy be able to save his business? Will anyone ever see just how great he really is?

Review: I was tempted to write the words “think Wimpy Kid”, but this is better. The writing style is very much the same: young boy narrating his story, very sarcastic and very funny, with lots of hand-drawn illustrations to get his points across. But this book is so much more. Through Timmy’s thin veil of sarcasm and make-believe we get a glimpse of his real life: his single-parent mother is having a hard time at work, she’s begun dating again, they have to downsize to a small apartment, Timmy begins having to sleep on a pull-out couch in the living room, he’s failing in school and the teacher is threatening to hold him back, he doesn’t sit with the other kids at lunch or play with anyone at recess. Timmy’s got some real problems, and he chooses to deal with it by making up a detective agency and consistently telling himself that he’s the best thing around. I give the character props for not being down on himself, but the level of make-believe is almost disturbing- at least from an adult perspective.

Themes: Changes at Home, Middle School, Economic Hardship

Additional Info:

Fun Fact: Written by the author of the comic strip Pearls Before Swine. Definitely shares the same sense of humor.

Main Characters:

Timmy Failure: A middle school student who has a very active imagination that often gets in the way of real life. He runs a detective agency, Total Failure, Inc., with his polar bear named Total. Timmy genuinely believes that he is the greatest thing around and does not need to waste time on school or other people.

Total: Timmy’s pet polar bear, who rarely says anything but is involved in all of the Total Failure business.

Rollo: Timmy’s “Idiot Best Friend” who is actually one of the best students in their class. His perfect GPA comes from lots of studying and hard work, which Timmy just cannot understand.

Timmy’s mother: A constant presence, even though she rarely says anything in the narrative. When she learns about Timmy’s failing grades, she makes him shut down the detective agency and get rid of Total. She allows him to start cases again when they are specifically for his new teacher.

Mr. Jenkins: The new teacher for Timmy’s class after Old Man Crocus finally leaves for Florida. Mr. Jenkins has a good understanding of Timmy’s real problem with school and cleverly gets him to start engaging by acting as if each assignment is a new case for the best detective around.

Bibliographic Info:

Pastis, S. (2013). Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick Press.


With a name like Timmy Failure, you might think he’s a loser. But he isn’t, he’s the greatest detective in town- probably the world.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda


Author: Tom Angleberger

Age Range: 8-12 (from Kirkus)

Interest Range: 8-12

Genre: Realistic Fiction

Plot: Tommy is trying to figure out if Origami Yoda is real. Not whether or not it exists (it obviously exists- it’s folded paper!), but whether or not the advice it has been giving to the students at his school is coming from it or the weird kid, Dwight, who created it. Should he trust the advice of this little piece of paper? In order to find out, Tommy has collected stories from many of his classmates who have taken the advice of Origami Yoda to compile a case file. After each story, Harvey gives an argument as to why Origami Yoda obviously can’t be real in this case, followed by Tommy’s own observations of the event. The result is a very fun read told in many different voices- those of Tommy, his friends, and random students throughout the school. In the end, is Origami Yoda really something magic, or is Dwight just smarter than he seems?

Review:I had been writing this book off for some time, because I just figured it was another take on the fad for young male readers that seemed to ignite with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but I also was interested in reading it just to see why so many kids were flocking to the latest title in the series (the Fortune Wookiee) in our bookstore. This book was great. Not only was the storyline well-planned and quick to follow, but you get to hear about all of the insecurities and frustrations that these young sixth grade boys are going through. Angleberger keeps it very real, and I think young boys and girls can appreciate this. Plus, it’s all wrapped up in a fun Star Wars package. Any child who has seen the movies will enjoy the references and attempts to do Yoda impressions. All around, a great read for both avid and reluctant readers alike.

Themes: Coming of age

Additional Info:

Series: This book is the first in a series. Other titles include: Darth Paper Strikes Back, and The Secret of the Fortune Wookie.

Main Character:

Tommy: A sixth grade boy, who likes a sixth grade girl named Sara. Origami Yoda has tried to tell him that she likes him too, but can he really believe the advice coming from a piece of folded paper? This is something too serious to take lightly, so Tommy decides to make a case file to investigate whether Origami Yoda’s advice is real.

Dwight: The strangest of Tommy’s classmates. Very socially awkward. The creator of Origami Yoda, and the one through whom Origami Yoda speaks his wisdom.

Harvey: The nay-sayer. Harvey does not believe a word of what Origami Yoda says and is convinced that Dwight is making it all up. He eventually makes his own Origami Yoda to disprove the entire thing.

Sara: The object of Tommy’s affections. She is a believer in Origami Yoda.

Bibliographic Info:

Angleberger, T. (2010). The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. New York: Amulet Books.


A folded-up piece of paper resembling Yoda gives students advice about how to solve their problems, or does he?