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Cool Kids

Michael is excited to start the year at his new school. He is going into 4th grade with two of his best friends. Together they all dream of playing football at this new school like they did last year. Michael makes several new friends in the first few weeks of school, and they all get along great. One day, Michael sees some boys playing football, and they will not let him join in. He is not one of the ‘cool kids.’ Disappointed, Michael decides to find a way to get into the cool kid’s group. Unfortunately, he learns that he must be mean and become a bully to be part of this group. Michael starts seeing himself as a monster and questions if being cool is worth it.

Cool Kids by Arlene Freeman takes a serious topic of bullying and presents it in a way that older elementary grade kids can understand and relate to. As a parent, I have witnessed bullying from this age group multiple times, and I think addressing it at this age level is vital for teaching just how harmful it can be to others. Kids will be able to relate to Michael and his desire to fit in and join others that are doing the activities he wants to do. I am impressed with how the author shows readers the ugly side of bullying. Being a bully makes you feel ugly inside, even when you look like the cool kid on the outside.

The artwork by Amelina Jones brings the story to life with detailed emotions for the characters and a style that fits between whimsy watercolors and graphic novel imagery. Children will enjoy the bright colors and realistic representations of a day in school. For younger kids who can’t read all the words yet, the images do a fantastic job of telling the story independently.

The theme of friendship and acceptance is just as strong as bullying in this children’s book. Michael is not the only kid to learn the real meaning of ‘cool kids,’ and seeing that people can change is helpful for this age group. It is a good reminder that sometimes we all make bad choices and that we can fix things by apologizing and making good choices after.

Cool Kids is a feel-good children’s book for elementary-level kids. Dealing with topics that kids struggle with at this age and presented in an approachable and relevant manner, this makes an excellent book for classrooms and caregivers to discuss the issues of bullying, kindness, and friendship.

Pages: 38 | ASIN : B09L5LKSST

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Reality Gold

Reality Gold (The Shifting Reality Collection) by [Brooks, Tiffany]

Tiffany Brooks’s book, Reality Gold, is an excellent read for young adults and beyond. Readers follow a large group of teenage survival show competitors who are whittled down as the show progresses. The story is told from the perspective of protagonist, Riley. Riley sees the show as a shot for redemption. She had gotten into some trouble at her high school, and ultimately had become both a viral meme and the butt end of seemingly everyone’s jokes. She wants to shake her reputation as a spoiled brat with a silver spoon. It doesn’t hurt her shot at winning that she has first-hand knowledge of the show’s backdrop, Black Rock Island, and the treasure it holds.

Brooks has constructed a very interesting, very well-written story with Reality Gold. The characters represent several demographics across the board. The plot and pace flow well. Bits of backstory of the island and Miles, Riley’s godfather with gold-fever, come out as the story progresses. The story sometimes feels like it does a cha-cha with it’s one step forward, two steps back rhythm. The kids are steadily moving toward their goal with some obstacles and setbacks in their path. Some plot twists at the end took me by surprise. The story kept my interest piqued until the very last page.

I particularly liked the character, Maren. Maren had dyed black and purple hair, and was always in a t-shirt with a sarcastic word or one-liner printed across the front. She was instantly labelled as harsh, mean, and weird. Some of those things came to her rightfully. Some of those things were likely just defense mechanisms. Either way, we get to see a few jagged edges soften at times. She lets some redeeming qualities peek out from underneath the dark makeup at times. She became a lesson in “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

I also liked brainy, sometimes aloof, A.J. who was interested in one thing and one thing only, the gold. He was more interested in the gold than the actual payout, because he saw the discovery itself as a foot into Harvard’s door. He was smart and driven and between him and Riley, had all the answers.

Riley was a rich kid, but wasn’t “just a rich kid.” That is the reputation she was fighting hard to shake. She wanted people to know her. Really know her. She thought the show would give her the chance to show the skewed world who the real Riley was. She also had a bit of the taste for the hunt passed down to her from her godfather. She plays a pivotal part in the story, both as a friend to her coeds and as an experienced treasure hunter.

There is a bit of a budding romance or two within the story, but nothing gets graphic whatsoever. There is also an important cautionary tale. There is an “almost romance” between an underage player and a crew member of the show. The characters struggle a little with how to handle that situation, but in the end, they keep their friend’s best interest and safety at heart.

Watching the clues, maps, markers, and cryptic symbols all fit together to form a completed puzzle was reminiscent of watching National Treasure and movies like it. The brainy kids all hashing and rehashing possible meanings and directions was exciting. The island served as a scary backdrop. Throwing in the “reality” factor kept both me and the characters trying to figure out what was fake and what wasn’t until the very end. They had to second guess everything they thought they knew since some things were manufactured specifically for the anticipated TV audience and ratings. Are their friends real or actors? Are the clues for the treasure real or planted?

I loved the characters and the story. It was well-written, and the characters and plot were well-developed. It was an exciting, sometimes “edge-of-your-seat” kind of story. I’d love to see more from this author.

Pages: 398 | ASIN: B07C5B7RFY

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