Tag Archives: middle-grade

Review: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Published: print – Clarion Books, 2007
audio – Scholastic Audio Books, 2007

Source: School library copy

Why I chose to read

The novel is used in our sixth-grade English classes. I thought it was about time I read it!


It is 1967, and Holling Hoodhood is the only Presbyterian in his seventh-grade homeroom class. Consequently, he is the only student left behind on Wednesdays when everyone else goes to Hebrew school or catechism. In his opinion, this draws the ire of his teacher, Mrs. Baker. Why else would she force him to read Shakespeare?

Shakespeare is not Holling’s only concern. He also has to deal with rats, avoid Doug Swieteck’s brother, confront his father’s expectations of his future position with Hoodhood and Associates, and scrape together enough money for 24 cream puffs – twice. And that is just the beginning.

What I enjoyed

  • The humor, oh, the humor! The humor was highlighted particularly by Joel Johnstone’s hilarious narration.
  • Schmidt captured the tentative dynamic of middle-school romance perfectly.
  • The rat subplot.
  • Once again, Joel Johnstone – this time for the voice of the principal.
  • Mrs. Baker – she is the teacher I aspire to be.
  • Following Holling’s journey as he finds his “guts.”
  • Introducing today’s students to the joys of sentence diagramming.

What detracted from my enjoyment

The main plot did take a while to get going. I was distracted by the myriad deviations from the subplots early on. Many of them did end up tying back in later on, so it wasn’t wasted time, and all played an important role building an understanding of Holling and his world.

Related reads

Stories set in the Vietnam era
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Kaleidoscope Eyes by Jen Bryant

Humorous school stories
Frindle by Andrew Clements
Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg


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Review: A True Princess by Diane Zahler

A True Princess coverA True Princess by Diane Zahler

Published: Harper Collins, 2011
Source: ARC borrowed from friend

Why I chose to read

I was asked if I’d like to participate in the blog tour, and I am thrilled to spread the word about this charming novel.


Lilia decides to leave the only home she has ever known before she is sold to the miller for work. She heads north in hopes of finding her origins and clues to her true identity, accompanied by her foster siblings. Their journey is long, and when they get lost in Bitra Forest, Kai falls victim to an enchantment by the Elf King’s daughter. Now, Lilia and Karina must find a rare jewel in order to save Kai.

What I enjoyed

  • I relished the Scandinavian setting and influences. My inner movie maker was working overtime during this read!
  • The bond between Karina and Lilia. They are as close as real sisters.
  • Subtle romantic tension between Lilia and Kai, perfect for middle grade readers.
  • The Elf King is an excellent villain.
  • Lilia’s growth from incompetent daydreamer to confident young woman is believable and empowering.

What detracted from my enjoyment

  • Lilia is smart, but she is slow to see some of the clues that are obvious to the reader (regarding her origins). I kept wanting to snap my fingers and say, “Lilia! Pay attention to this!”
  • Karina’s romance is based on appearance.

Fairy tale retellings are such fun, and A True Princess is no exception. This will be a popular read in my library for sure!

Related reads

The Princess and the Pea versions

The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine
Hans Christian Anderson’s The Princess and the Pea: The graphic novel by Stephanie True Peters

Stories with evil creature encounters

The Stonekeeper’s Curse (Amulet #2) by Kazu Kibuishi
The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

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Blog Tour: A True Princess by Diane Zahler

Today I am so pleased to welcome Diane Zahler, author of The Thirteenth Princess, to The Cazzy Files. Diane is journeying around the blogosphere to celebrate the publication of her new middle grade fantasy, A True Princess. Thanks for stopping by, Diane!

Can you tell us a little about your new novel, A True Princess?

A True Princess is the story of Lilia, a girl brought up by a shepherd and his family. She leaves the farm to travel north to find her family, and her two friends, Kai and Karina, make the trip with her. Their journey takes them through the dark and dangerous Bitra Forest, where they stumble into the kingdom of the evil Elf-King and his beautiful daughter. When Kai is taken prisoner by the elves, Lilia knows that she must find a way to save him. Her quest takes her to a castle in search of a magical jewel – but another search is taking place at the castle, a search for a true princess.

How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

A True Princess is loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Princess and the Pea,” and its dangerous elves were inspired by Goethe’s poem “The Erl-King.” It also includes Nordic myth, heroic falcons, fierce wolves, a dog who was based on my own dog, and a touch of romance. I’m a fan of heroines who take charge of their own destinies, and Lilia does just that. As the story begins, she doesn’t know who she is or where she is going, but as her quest progresses she discovers more than that: she learns the extent of her own strength.

Jennifer at Jean Little Library asked the question foremost in my mind, about the Scandinavian influences in the story. Follow the link to read more about how the setting, the fairy tale, Goethe’s poem “The Erl-King”, and Norse mythology all came together in this enchanting novel.

Given the focus on Scandinavian literature, what prompted you to include Hansel and Gretel in your story?

“Hansel and Gretel” is a German tale, but I’ve found that Scandinavian and middle European folklore overlap a lot. The Elf-King story, for example, which I first heard in Goethe’s poem “The Erl-King,” is originally from a Danish folktale. And I think that the themes of many fairy tales are nearly universal – they appeal to the deepest fears and desires of children. Those themes tend to cross cultural boundaries. The idea of children lost in the wilderness can be found in tales from many different countries, so I thought such a story might not be unknown even to children in a fantasy world.

Which scene in A True Princess was your favorite to write?

Oh, definitely the scene where the main character, Lilia, and her friends Kai and Karina first encounter the Elf-King. I wanted to make him and his daughter both mesmerizing and creepy – like the poem that was my inspiration for them – and describing the scene and finding their voices was great fun.

What is your favorite princess story (other than your own?)

I’m a huge fan of Robin McKinley’s Beauty and Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl. Both of these writers create worlds that are at once magical and completely believable; their graceful writing is a joy to read.

What is your favorite fairy tale?

I love “Beauty and the Beast,” a story with layer upon layer of meaning, and “Rapunzel,” which I find endlessly strange and fascinating. I hadn’t realized until just now the similarity in the plots: in both, a stolen plant results in the loss of a daughter!

Wow, I hadn’t realized that either!

Okay, last question. You describe the aurora borealis so vividly. “The horizon, where it met the mountain peaks, had turned from the deep blue of early evening to green, and it was pulsing lightly. I watched as the green color moved upward and shaded into teal, then inky blue, blue-purple, violet, lavender. The whole sky now was bathed in vivid colors, and it pulsed like the world’s heartbeat (p. 136, ARC)”. Have you ever seen the Northern Lights yourself?

Yes, I have. I was in my hometown of Ithaca, New York, walking late at night in winter, and suddenly the sky began pulsing with waves of green light. It was terrifying and beautiful, and I had no idea what I’d seen until I read about it in the newspaper the next day. The multicolored aurora is much rarer; I’d love to see that in Scandinavia someday!

Ooh, I’m envious! Well, you have certainly added a new destination to my travels. Between the Northern Lights and the beautiful landscapes described in the novel, Scandinavia is a must-visit for me!

Thank you, Diane, for sharing your insights with us!
The final two stops on the blog tour are Sonder Booksand Bookscoops. To see the rest of the blogs participating in the blog tour, visit Diane Zahler’s website. And stay tuned for my review of A True Princess!


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