Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Fables from the Stables: Murray the Race Horse

Murray the Race Horse, by Gavin Puckett/Illustrated by Tor Freeman, (May 2018, Faber & Faber), $8.95, ISBN: 9780571334681

Recommended for readers 6-10

Murray is a sweet horse with big dreams: he wants to race, he wants a trophy, he wants the adulation of the fans, but there’s a big problem: Murray just can’t run that fast. He’s used as a service horse, and the other sleek, fast racing horses poke fun at him, but Murray gets his chance at greatness when Ned, one of the racing horses, is injured at the big Speed Saddle Cup race and Murray is pulled out of the crowd to compete in his place! Murray’s handed off to a stable boy for shoeing – but the stable boy puts the shoes on the wrong way, leaving Murray to run the race backwards! Is seeing things differently the key to Murray’s success?

Originally released in the UK in 2017, Murray is the first in author Gavin Puckett’s Fables from the Stables series, and is a short story, written in verse, and illustrated in full color. Murray is a sweet horse that kids will root for, and the storyline about seeing things differently, or trying a different strategy to change your luck, will appeal to parents, educators, and caregivers that may need some help explaining the concept. This can easily be a read-aloud or independent reading book. Give this to your horse story fans (get those Horse Diaries books on display) and your humor readers.

Advertisements
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Vivian French creates fun fairy tales!

The Cherry Pie Princess, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (March 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677332

Recommended for readers 7-11

Peony is the youngest of her princess sisters. She’s also the one with manners, and who loves to read. When a baby brother is born, her parents are thrilled and demand a huge celebration, but Peony’s father – who may be a tyrant – only wants people who will give good gifts and who are the “right” kind of people at the party, which leaves out The Hag, a powerful witch who doesn’t take kindly to being ignored. It’s up to Peony to use her brains to save the town librarian and an aspiring court jester that her father locked in the dungeon, her baby brother, and the entire kingdom. No pressure!

Vivian French’s fairy tales are so much fun to read. They’ve got wonderful heroines and heroes, and a dramatis personae of dramatic foils that are generally (comically) awful people. In this case, Peony, who loves the library, borrows a cookbook and learns how to bake while her father has the librarian thrown in the dungeon for daring to speak directly to Peony. Who discovers this years later, when her own father locks her up for daring to talk back to him. It’s Peony’s book smarts and sense of decency that combine to help her take charge of the situation when The Hag shows up to cause trouble, and save the day. There’s humor, fun and diverse characters – the three good fairy godmothers appear to be African-American – and Marta Kissi’s entertaining black and white artwork make this a fun read for fantasy fans, princess fans, and readers who love a book with a message. Plus, there’s a talking cat and a librarian. So, bonus.

Props to Marta Kissi for nailing a picture of me at the end of a day at the library, without even knowing me:

 

The Adventures of Alfie Onion, by Vivian French/Illustrated by Marta Kissi, (March 2018, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781610677325

Recommended for readers 7-11

Alfie Onion could really have had a chip on his shoulder, and no one would blame him. He’s the eighth son of a seventh son, an inconvenience to his mother, who lavishes all her attentions on her seventh son of a seventh son, Magnifico. You see, his mother grew up obsessed with fairy tales, and was convinced that the seventh son of a seventh son was destined for greatness; Magnifico is his mother’s long-tail get-rich scheme. The thing is, Magnifico is a spoiled brat who pretty much knows how to eat. And that’s that. So when his mother pushes him off to start his great adventures, Magnifico takes Alfie (and his dog, Bowser) along to carry his luggage. Guess who the real hero is going to be?

I am so happy to read that these two books are the beginning of a new stand-alone series; they are so much fun to read and address modern-day problems in a fairy tale setting. Like The Cherry Pie Princess, Alfie Onion has a positive hero with overwrought, melodramatic antagonist foils. Alfie is always respectful and kind, where Magnifico is selfish and rude; when danger lurks, Magnifico expects Alfie to protect him: some hero! The humor is light and fun, with all the fantasy dressing: forests, trolls, talking birds and mice, a lovelorn ogress, a faithful dog, and a hero’s quest. Marta Kissi’s illustrations just add to the fun here, especially when the adventure takes a turn into an ogrish rubbish pit.

Do you have readers who love Whatever After? Grimmtastic Girls? Hand them these, and tell them to enjoy. Have boys who think fairy tales are for girls? First, tell them they’re clearly not reading the right fairy tales, and hand them these, too.

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is wonderful!

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, by Stacy McAnulty, (May 2018, Random House), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5247-6757-0

Recommended for readers 8-12

I am so excited to talk up this book, because it is SO GOOD. I was lucky enough to be on author Stacy McAnulty’s “street team”, so I have evangelized this book to my library kiddos, bending the ear of everyone I talk to (including grownups) at the library and at home, and generally shoving this book at people to tell them that they need to read it immediately.

Lucy is a gifted tween, thanks to a lightning strike at age seven that left her with savant abilities in math. She loves math. She sees and smells the numbers and equations; they reveal themselves to her and tell them all their secrets, but social relationships have eluded her. She struggles with OCD behaviors and has been homeschooled by her grandmother, who finally decides that Lucy develop socially, and enrolls her in middle school, which doesn’t really go over so well with Lucy, who’s more ready for college applications. But Lucy promises her grandmother that she’ll make one friend, join one activity, and read one book that isn’t a math textbook. Lucy’s OCD automatically makes her a target to the local mean girl, but she persists, finding ways to use her talents in a class project, and making two pretty good friends, while she’s at it.

I can’t find enough great things to say about Lightning Girl. Stacy McAnulty gives us a strong, funny, sweet, and complex group of characters that reader will recognize bits of themselves in; supportive parental figures that are doing their best, and parents that need a bit more work. It’s a glimpse at everyday life with a touch of the extraordinary, and it’s a touching look at the power of caring about something bigger than oneself. Lucy goes through tremendous upheaval, but she rides it out, and grows through the course of the book. Before the events that form the narrative, she sees life as a series of problems that can be worked out, but learns that some of the toughest problems bring rewarding solutions. Even if the final answer isn’t correct, the work to get there makes a difference.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl is compulsively readable, discussable, and perfect middle grade reading. Teachers, PLEASE put this on your Summer Reading lists, so I can hand this book to every middle grader I see this summer. Lightning Girl has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Kirkusand Publisher’s Weekly. Author Stacy McAnulty is on a book tour for Lightning Girl right now: head to her author webpage for a schedule!

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Never That Far: They never really leave us

Never That Far, by Carol Lynch Williams, (Apr. 2018, Shadow Mountain), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-62972-409-6

Recommended for readers 9-12

Twelve-year-old Libby is devastated when her best friend, her grandfather, dies at home. Crippled by grief, her father can barely get out of bed to work in the family’s Florida orange groves. On the night of Grampa’s funeral, though, Libby has a visitor: Grampa’s spirit shows up in her room, telling her that “the dead ain’t never that far from the living”, and that she has to search the lake for something he left for her. Sadly, he tells her that her father can’t see him; he doesn’t believe. To him, “the Dead are dead”. Libby joins forces with her friend, Bobby, to discover the treasure at the lake, but her father spirals further into grief and depression and threatens to derail Libby’s entire mission.

Never That Far has a touch of the supernatural set into a realistic fiction about grief, loss, and family. The Sight, Libby’s family gift, allows her to see and speak with dead family members. Her father has been worn down by grief, enduring the deaths of his siblings, wife, mother, and now, father; he has spent years arguing with his family about their “gift”, refusing to accept it for what it is. Libby’s revelation is unbearable to him, threatening an even greater rift between father and daughter when he tries to stop her from her mission. Together, Libby and Grampa, with some help from Bobby, work to save Libby’s father, who’s in danger of becoming a shell of a person and leaving Libby alone in the world.

The characters are gently realized, revealing themselves to readers little by little over the course of the book and packing powerful emotional punches as they come. Libby witnesses her grandfather’s grief at not being able to connect with his son in a scene that will have readers reaching for tissues. Taking place in the late 1960s in rural Florida allows the plot to remain character-driven. This is a moving story of grief, loss, and renewal that will appeal to certain readers: it’s a good book to have handy for your tough times lists, and for comfort reading. It’s spiritual, rather than overtly religious, and is soothing for readers experiencing loss and moving on.

 

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Battle of Junk Mountain is underway

The Battle of Junk Mountain, by Lauren Abbey Greenberg, (April 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7624-6295-7

Recommended for readers 8-12

Twelve-year-old Shayne is not having the summer she expected. Normally, she loves spending time with her grandparents and her “summer sister”, Poppy, in Maine, but things are different now. Her grandmother, Bea, hasn’t been quite the same since Shayne’s grandfather died in a fishing boat accident, and Poppy’s more interested in boys and makeup than she is in their summertime rituals. Shayne’s in Maine to help Bea get her home cleaned out: she’s always “collected” stuff, raiding yard sales and thrift stores, but she’s gotten a bit carried away since Grandpa died. Shayne refers to the pile of junk (“treasures”) on top of one table as Junk Mountain, but Bea just pooh-poohs any talk about there being a problem. But there are problems: Bea’s spending is out of control, and any attempts at getting the house cleaned up and selling her “treasures” off ends up getting Bea upset. Alone and conflicted, Shayne ends up befriending Linc (short for Lincoln), the Civil War-obsessed grandson of her grandmother’s next door neighbor. Shayne’s got to figure out a way to keep the peace in her shifting relationships this summer, or it will be the worst summer ever.

Told in the first person by Shayne, The Battle for Junk Mountain looks at how relationships shift over time; Poppy and Shayne’s friendship is going through its growing pains as the two start coming into themselves as tweens, but the big story here is the relationship between Bea and Shayne. What happens when that relationship changes? Shayne has some big ticket items to face in Junk Mountain: her grandmother’s collecting has turned into something bigger than she is, and she’s on her own for most of the novel while dealing with it. She also navigates two friendships: a changing longtime friendship and a new friendship with someone who doesn’t fit in with her usual summer traditions. It’s a gentle coming-of-age story that also has the ability to start a talk about big responsibilities kids face today.

There’s a free, downloadable study guide, with discussion questions and Common Core Standards, available through the author’s website. The Battle of Junk Mountain is good summer reading: easy to read, but filled with realistic, relatable characters that will leave readers thinking and talking.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads

Aleks Mickelsen brings us back to Enchanted Norway!

Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven (Zaria Fierce #5), by Keira Gillett, (April 2018, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750093

Recommended for readers 10-14

The second Aleks Mickelsen adventure – and the fifth book in the Zaria Fierce series – is here! Aleks Mickelsen and the Call of the White Raven continues the adventure started in last year’s Aleks Mickelsen and the Twice-Lost Fairy Well. Aleks, a changeling raised by his human family, has to work with his fae sister, Nori, and his best friends to stop the chaos dragon Fritjof from wreaking havoc on the fae and human worlds. This time, Aleks has to negotiate with his treacherous fae relations and undergo a series of tests – Harry Potter fans, you’ll love this – to save his friends. Thank goodness he’s getting better at working with Airi (pronounced eye-riii), his white raven.

Everything you love about the Zaria Fierce books is here: the strong friendships, the nonstop adventure, the magical creatures, and the hero’s quest are all here, waiting for fantasy lovers to join them. There are increasingly complex relationships to navigate, with a little love triangle brewing between Filip, Henrik the Stag Lord, and Zaria emerging as a continuing subplot; Aleks continues to have an up-and-down relationship with his fae family, particularly Nori, whose own quest to reunite the fae courts under her family puts the two at odds throughout the book.

Keira Gillett’s at the height of her storytelling here; she starts off the book with fun and friends, easing us back into the fantasy world of Niffleheim, where the group is camping on their quest to find and stop Fritjof. Don’t get too comfortable, though; the action starts quickly and takes you right along for the ride. Keira’s storytelling is rich in imagery and fully realized characters who have grown with each book in the series. She lets her characters retain the essence of who they are, while letting them be formed by their experiences. She understands that they’re now firmly in their teens, and takes that into account by navigating complex feelings and relationships with one another. Alex’s own stress about the potential loss of his unique changeling abilities is at war with his lifelong desire to be “normal”, and if that isn’t the story of being a teen right there in a nutshell, what is?

Eoghan Kerrigan’s illustrations are as breathtaking as ever, giving this series classic fantasy artwork to engage our imaginations; fantasy cartographer Kaitlin Statz’s maps guide us along a wonderfully secret tour of Enchanted Norway. Hmmm… it may be time to consider a scavenger hunt for my Summer Reading program… how about Find the Water Wyvern? (I could never get through a Keira Gillett review without mentioning my beloved Norwick in some form!)

Take your time, treat yourself, and enjoy Aleks Mickelson and the Call of the White Raven, and get ready for Aleks Mickelsen and the Eighth Fox Throne War, due later this year.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Annie B is Made for TV!

Annie B, Made for TV!, by Amy Dixon, (June 218, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762463855

Recommended for readers 7-10

Annie Brown is an 11-year-old who always seems to come in second to her best friend, Savannah. Savannah seems unable to do any wrong: she wins the big awards at school, she’s the MVP of the school track team, and she’s a straight-A student. Savannah tries to be a supportive best friend, and when a local web show called The Cat’s Meow holds auditions, Savannah just knows that Annie has to try out! After all, no one comes up with wacky “As Seen on TV”-type products like she does! Annie’s own dad calls them her “wrinventions”, and they include things like Apology Armor (extra padding on those knees). But Annie freezes at the audition… and Savannah lands the role of announcer, which causes a rift in their friendship – even when Annie is brought on as a show writer. Can Annie outfit herself in some Apology Armor and patch things up with Savannah?

This is one of those middle grade novels that so many readers will understand! Who hasn’t felt jealous of a good friend, especially if they seem to have it all? Who hasn’t felt the disappointment of missing out on something like being cast for a school play, or making a sports team? Amy Dixon captures realistic scenarios and real feelings in the form of a spunky, funny protagonist who wants to be Lucy, but maybe is a little more Ethel. Annie B. Made for TV reminds me of Sarvenaz Tash’s Belle of the Ball, a great story from the anthology The Radical Element. It’s not always about being the one in the spotlight, but about knowing your strengths and how to work them. This one’s a fun, smart read for middle graders, and is filled with black and white line drawings of Annie’s best “wrinventions”.