8/23/16

In a Blue Velvet Dress, by Catherine Sefton, for Timeslip Tuesday

Today's timeslip book, In a Blue Velvet Dress, by Catherine Sefton (1973),  is an older one from my shelves...and at first I though I misremembered it had time travel in it, because it seemed like a ghost story.  But happily I enjoyed the re-reading of it enough to keep going, and indeed, there are time slip elements toward the end.

Jane's parents have gone off on a sailing trip to Scotland, leaving her in the care of a middle aged couple who love children and have none of her own, in a one horse town in Northern Ireland.  Jane, somewhat disgruntled about being dumped, has fortified herself with a whole suitcase of her favorite books (she is an inveterate bookworm).  But when she unpacks, she realizes to her horror that she has her father's suitcase instead (and he has all her Chalet School books etc., which is doubtless dismaying him too....).  The house where she's staying has only the telephone book, and even Jane can't read that, and there is no bookstore.  Horror!

But then every night a new book appears on Jane's bedside table, only to vanish the next day.  Some are old favorites (E. Nesbit), others are old book's she's never heard of.  And then Jane realizes that her mysterious benefactor is the ghost of a young girl, a friendly ghost, Mary, who also loved to read, whose father had drowned at sea.  One night she slips though time to the bookroom of Mary and her father, and a lovely room it is! 

When Jane's parents sail back from Scotland into a fierce storm, and the lightboats are called out to rescue them, Jane is of course horribly afraid for them, but Mary comes to comfort her, and time slips again, so that Jane sees the night long ago when Mary's father drowned.  Jane's parents are more fortunate, and Jane realizes that far from Mary wanting to be helped, Mary came to help her, because she is really just about the nicest bookworm ghost anyone could ever want.

There's more to the story--Jane makes a real life friend as well, and they go exploring and have a few minor misadventures  (which is good for Jane, because reader though I am reading isn't everything!), and there are many bits of humor.  But mostly the appeal of the story is Jane's hunger for reading matter!  The time slipping is minor, and doesn't exactly Advance the Plot, but it makes the book more magical.  I'm glad that I held on to it--it was a very nice re-read.

Happily it was reprinted in 2002 (the edition shown above), and so there are cheap copies around if you want to try it!


8/22/16

Bera the One-Headed Troll, by Eric Orchard

Bera the One-Headed Troll, by Eric Orchard, is another charming graphic novel for the young (nine to elevenish) from First Second Books (August 2016).

Bera is content with her simple life on an isolated island, growing pumpkins for the king, with Winslowe, her owl friend, for conversational company.  But her peaceful existence is upended when a human baby is washed up to the island.  Bera saves the baby from unpleasant mermaids, and then has to figure out what to do with it.  When the malignant witch Cloote arrives looking for the lost child, with definitely evil intentions toward it, Bera decides the baby needs a hero to save it.  So she and Winslowe set out to find a legendary hero....braving many magical dangers during their journey.  When the first hero fails, they try another...and then another....fortunately they have a band of hedgehog mages on their side to help them through the magical perils.  And fortunately at the end, Bera realizes the baby doesn't necessarily need a hero to save it, just someone to look after it lovingly, and it just so happens that Bera's island is under the king's own protection.

It's a vivid and engrossing story, and the illustrations bring the dangerous adventures and the strange magical creatures to life most beautifully!  The details of all the characters and the fantastical landscape might well inspire young artists, and the moral of the story (that passing the buck to heroes is often more trouble than simply taking on responsibility oneself), though understated (the book isn't didactic) is one that all young readers will have to learn eventually....

 Though Bera might be somewhat monstrous in appearance, she's a loveable protagonist whose determination and warm heart maker her a heroine to cheer for.  Winslowe is a great owl sidekick, and of course magical hedghogs add value to any story. 

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

8/21/16

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/21/16)

Here's what I found; enjoy and let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Dr. Fell and the Playgroud of Doom, by David Nielsen, at Kid Lit Reviews and Word Spelunking

A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, at Mister K Reads

Fuzzy, by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Grimjinx Rebellion, by Brian Farrey, at Leaf's Reviews

Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? by Liz Kessler, at The Book Monsters

The Haunting of Falcon House by Eugene Yelchin, at Waking Brain Cells

The Inquisitor's Tale, by Adam Gidwitz, at The Booklist Reader

Invisible Inc. by Steve Cole, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Brallier, at The Book Monsters

The Left-Handed Fate, by Kate Milford, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

The Ministry of Ghosts, by Alex Shearer, at The Write Path

The Poe Estate, by Polly Shulman, at Got My Book (audiobook review)

The Secret of the Ruby Ring, by Yvonne MacGrory, at Charlotte's Library

The Secret Sea, by Barry Lyga, at School Library Journal and The Reading Nook Reviews

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at Finding Wonderland

The Stolen Chapters by James Riley, at Carstairs Considers

Worlds Explode (Darkmouth 2), by Shane Hegarty, at Say What?

Zoe in Wonderland, by Brenda Woods, at Ms. Yingling Reads


Authors and Interviews

Kate Milford (The Left-Handed Fate) at On Starships and Dragonwings and  School Library Journal

Kelly Barnhill (The Girl Who Drank the Moon) at Teen Librarian Toolbox

Claire Fayers (The Voyage to Magical North) at The Children's Book Review

David Nielsen (Dr. Fell and the Playgroud of Doom) at Word Spelunking

Bruce Hale (The Curse of the Were-Hyena) at This Kid Reviews Books


Giveaways

The Curse of the Were-Hyena, at This Kid Reviews Books

Dr. Fell and the Playgroud of Doom, by David Nielsen, at Word Spelunking

Joshua and the Lightning Road, at Nayu's Reading Corner, Middle Grade Mafioso, and Log Cabin Library (all with bonus swag)

Furthermore, at The Book Smugglers, with Tahereh Mafi’s favorite things

The Secret Sea, at Reading Nook Reviews


Other Good Stuff

A nice article on Diana Wynne Jones at Tor

Favorite fantasy boats at Tor


8/16/16

The Secret of the Ruby Ring, by Yvonne MacGrory, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Secret of the Ruby Ring, by Yvonne MacGrory (1994) is not a bad book.  If I had read it when I was 9 or so, I might have loved it.  As an adult, though, I found it boring both the first time I read it ten years ago and when reading it again the last few days.

It's the story of an Irish girl named Lucy who wishes on a magic ring that she could live in a bigger house.  Lucy is a spoiled brat of a 12 year old who's not happy with her comfy life and always wants to win and know all the answers at school, so not very appealing.  The ring grants her wish...by taking her back in time to a 19th century grand Irish country home, where she is a servant.  Lucy and the reader learn a lot about historic cooking and cleaning and gardening and clothes etc.  (lots and lots of descriptions) and we also all learn about Irish politics of the time and the hardships the Irish people suffered at the hands of the English landowners. 

We learn lots, unleavened by much in the way of interesting story.  Some tension is provided by Lucy's loss of her magic ring, and her efforts to find it, but it wasn't all that much tension.  Lucy just doesn't seem to me to have any character to speak of. And though Roger and Elizabeth, the two English children of the house, are almost in tears when she leaves, it beats me why they would care all that much because there wasn't much to speak of that bonded them beyond a teensy bit of ring-recovering adventure, and one brief "Elizabeth and Lucy talk as though they are equals" scene, which was abrupt enough that it just felt awkward to me and not narratively meaningful.

I think that 10 or 11 year old fans of Downton Abbey might like it because of the upstairs/downstairs set up of the story, and the historical details might be more interesting if they are already predisposed to care about them.  And inveterate time travel readers that age might also find it satisfying because the premise is wonderfully magical.  Though actually it's not very interesting time travel--no language issues, almost no slip ups in which Lucy betrays knowledge of the future, easy slipping into a routine of hard and unfamiliar work. The adult reader (aka me) might be unconvinced that Lucy's ignorance is overlooked as much as it is.

I think most young readers would find it heavy going and too didactic.  But if you like valuable life lesson and historical detail spread thickly, give it a try. It did win the Irish Children's Book of the Year Award when it came out...





8/15/16

Learning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy

Learning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy (Bloomsbury July 2016), is one of my favorite books of the year so far, even though it has none of my usual favorite fictional accoutrements (no orphans, big old houses, English gardens, or magical cats...). What it does have is a cool story of Science Danger, and a protagonist I found very loveable (although from a somewhat maternal slant, so not applicable to the YA target audience who presumably aren't in my position of having teenaged sons learning to navigate a difficult world).

Yuri's world is more than a bit difficult.  He is a 17-year-old Russian math genius, raised primarily by Russian math professors (dead father, preoccupied and distant cardiologist mother).  His math genius is such that he is called in by NASA to help them math their way out of disaster--an asteroid is headed toward earth, and Yuri's mathematical brilliance will perhaps tilt the balance toward success, and perhaps his work with antimatter, though unpublished, will be useful.

So there is Yuri, whisked to California at the drop of a hat to do math with NASA's best and brightest, with the fate of the planet hanging over his head.  It's a difficult situation--he's a kid, and so it's hard for the others to take him as seriously as they should be doing, he's a foreigner, and so the social nuances of American life are tricksy (although lord knows cafeteria skills rank right up there with insurmountable in terms of challenge), and he's an odd duck because of not having a normal childhood.  (NB--what he's not is a mathematical savant on the autism spectrum.  I am rather glad that the author didn't automatically equate genius and no social skills with Asbergers, which would have been easy for her to do, because that would have been a different book, and I liked this one just fine as it was, and because Asperger's doesn't automatically equal genius, and is a whole nother issue with it's own trajectory, not just a handy label for the socially challenged).

So anyway, there is Yuri, and there is the asteroid, and there is all his work on antimatter, and then there is Dovie, the daughter of a NASA janitor. Yuri and Dovie meet when she sneaks into the break room on a doughnut pilfering mission (which of course made me sympathetic to her from the get go), and suddenly Yuri must shake himself into the awareness that there is an American girl who Likes him.  Dovie is great; she's an artist and rebel and her parents are ex (ish) hippies, and she is altogether a New Thing for Yuri.  And so Yuri finds that he's on his way to Prom, when he should be at NASA saving the world....and sexy thoughts intrude on the pure math that he's used to having in his head.  Yuri's awakening as a sexual person was very nicely done...he doesn't objectify Dovie, or de-person her, but she is a catalyst who makes him a different person.  And her family are great too--her parents and older brother, Lennon, who uses a wheelchair, all recognize that Yuri never had a childhood as part of a family, and in their own ways encourage him to be a person who can think outside of the math, without trying to change the fact that math is his native language.  Though Dovie also introduces him to color, and Lennon give him a lesson in swearing.

So there are Yuri and Dovie and the asteroid, and back in Russia Yuri's unpublished work is being stolen (and he can't do anything about it from America, which is killing him) and he finds out he might never be allowed back to Russia again (state secrets).   And there are the NASA scientists, not believing his antimatter approach will work, when he knows it is the only chance... and so the weight of the world rests heavily on him. 

And I found it all rather tense and very moving. And funny--even though English is a foreign language, Yuri uses the words he has to excellent effect, both as the point of view character and in dialogue.  His style of humor minded me of Russians I know, which made him seem particularly convincing.

So then I check the Kirkus review....(me checking).....and no, Kirkus, you are wrong.  What do you mean "Though the relationship between Dovie and Yuri is ostensibly a romantic one, the chemistry between them never quite gains momentum or achieves maximum impact...."?  Maybe there is no passionate sex scene, but heck, they are teenagers who have known each other only a few days, and so we get things like Yuri's toes fizzing when Dovie's dress brushes over them and I found it believable as all get out, and nicely sex-positive.  And nice too that Dovie gets to make the first move, deciding that kissing is what she wants.  And then Kirkus goes on to say "...much like the threat of the asteroid threatening to lay waste to the region" and I thought the asteroid did just fine on impact and Yuri sweated blood about the decisions he made and it was very tense. So.

Anyway, I'm keeping this one on my own shelves because I can imaging re-reading it, which is getting to be a higher and higher compliment every year as I run out of shelf space.  The SLJ is correct--"This work is thought provoking, heartwarming, and unforgettable and is recommended for readers who enjoy science-based fiction. A superb addition to any library collection serving teens."

Other thoughts--

There are hero programmers, who take Yuri's pure math and make it functional.  You don't often see hero programmers at work.  This was very nicely geeky. 

The NASA folks and the programmers are mostly male, but I don't think Katie Kennedy can be held responsible for this.  There are enough women playing important roles to make it clear that they are possible.

Lennon's difficulties with handicapped accessibility and his frustrations felt realistic without making him an object of pity, and the fact of his wheelchair use ended up being relevant to the plot and so not just window-dressing.  He also works in a library, making him naturally appealing, and a bit of a gender-stereotype breaker.

Teenagers will appreciate that one of Yuri's superpowers (math being the first) is that he can stay up several nights in a row doing frantic math and still function.  Unlike the NASA grown-ups.

Final thought--this didn't feel like "Science Fiction."  But in the course of my thinking, I decided that using antimatter technology that doesn't exist to destroy an asteroid that doesn't exist is pretty speculative, so I am comfy labeling it Sci Fi.

Final final thought--I thought about giving this one to my 13 year old, who enjoyed The Martian lots (geek hero-ness), but he's not yet at the point of appreciating toes having zingy feelings of lust. Maybe next year.  Or maybe like ten years from now.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

8/14/16

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction (8/14/16)

Here's what I have this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Beastkeeper, by Kat Hellisen, at The Daily Prophecy

The Boy at the End of the World, by Greg Van Eekhout, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu, at Big Hair and Books

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, by David Nielsen, at Always in the Middle and Project Mayhem

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Kid Lit Reviews, For the Love of All Things Wordy, and The Bookshelf Gargoyle

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, at Fantasy Literature

Hotel Valhalla Guide to the Norse Worlds, by Rick Riordan, at B. and N. Kids Blog

The Key to Extraordinary, by Natalie Lloyd, at Pages Unbound

The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, by Lauren DeStefano, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Pilfer Academy, by Lauren Magaziner, at A Backwards Story (though I'm not sure this is spec. fic.; thoughts?)

Rump, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Leaf's Reviews

The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart, at Say What?

The Seventh Element (Voyagers #6) by Wendy Mass, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Space Hostages, by Sophia McDougall, at Whispering Stories

Sword in the Stacks (Ninja Librarians 2) by Jen Swann Downey, at Mom Read It

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead,, at Completely Full Bookshelf

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown, at The Booklist Reader

and at the B. and N. Kids Blog I have a nice list of boarding school books, including lots of mg spec. fic. ones.


Authors and Interviews

Kelly Barnhill (The Girl Who Drank the Moon) at From the Mixed Up Files

Bridget Hodder (The Rat Prince) at Literary Rambles

Tone Almhjell (Thornghost)  at Nerdy Book Club

David Nielsen (Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom) at Middle Grade Ninja


Other Good Stuff

In which a shipwreck expert weighs in on the Little Mermaid, at Atlas Obscura

At Tor, a discussion of one of the great mysterious of middle grade fantasy--why Turkish Delight? 

"Why Kids Need Monsters and Magic" at The Washington Post

8/12/16

The Infamous Ratsos, by Kara LaReau

https://www.amazon.com/Infamous-Ratsos-Ratso-Brothers/dp/0763676365
The Infamous Ratsos, by Kara LaReaua (Candlewick August 2016) is a lovely early reader/first chapter book that is both funny in its words and pictures, and sweet in a valuable life lesson offering way.

Two young rats, Louie and Ralphie, want to be Tough, like their dad, Big Lou.  Their mama is no longer with them, and Big Lou is Tough, and encourages his boys to be too.  They walk to school (buses are for softies), they spend recess leaning against that wall, glaring and spitting (playing is for softies).  But then they decide the time has come to prove to the world how tough they are, by setting out to do bad things.  Each chapter tells of a new effort to be rotten, and how every time they try to be unkind, it backfires and they find they have done something good and made someone happy.

Their father finds out...but instead of being disappointed that his boys weren't tough, Big Lou shows his own soft side.  "Being tough all the time is so...so....tough," he says, and pulls them in for a hug.  And the Ratso family figures that life is tough enough without making it harder on folks, so you might as well do what you can to make things easier for them  (just on the off chance you're missing the point, that's the life lesson mentioned above, and I really do like it, but the Ratso family don't all become goody two shoes, so don't worry about it getting too much).

The illustrations by Matt Myers add the humor of the story, with lots of nice details for the observant child to appreciate it (the beaver teacher's dress is decorated with logs, the "hug someone" on their mugs has been changed to "slug someone" and "bug someone", etc.).  So the whole package is very nicely age appropriate and diverting for the 5 -7 year old emerging reader.

Which is basically what Kirkus said too "A nicely inventive little morality “tail” for newly independent readers" but Kara LaReau and Matt Myers manage to be amusing without forced puns (although thinking about it Harder and Deeper, Matt Myers dances on the edge at times--like the graffiti reading "I am a Bad Ger." But Myers is working within the story, and Kirkus is just being cute for no good reason.....)

(nb--I don't know anyone who is actually counting the dead mothers in this year's crop of children's books, but here's another one; there are almost enough of them to constitute an army of the undead! In this case, a dead and much missed Mama Ratso, who was the sweet softness in the Ratso home, is much more powerful than a live one, preaching at her family, would have been....but still, dead is dead for the purposes of counting).

disclaimer:  Kara is one of the masterminds of Providence's own Kidlit Drink night, which I have been enjoying very much (thank you Kara!) which is the reason why I have now read and posted about The Infamous Ratsos, but I think I would have said much the same sort of thing regardless of my favorable bias.

Also thanks to Kara's book launch, I find myself in a picture at Publishers Weekly (I am fourth from the left), which doesn't happen every day...



8/7/16

This Week's Round Up of Middle Grade Sci fi and Fantasy from around the blogs (8/7/16)

Here's what I found this week.  Let me know if I missed your post; bloglovin turned ugly on me, so if you posted something on Monday or Tuesday, I might not have seen it....

The Reviews

Alistair Grim's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at The Book Monsters

The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase, by Wendy Mass, at Read Till Dawn

The Carpet People, by Terry Pratchett, at Back to Books

Crown of Earth, by Hilari Bell, at Leaf's Reviews

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, by David Nielsen, at The Book Monsters, The Reading Nook Reviews, Literary Hoots, and My Brain on Books

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Pages Unbound, Book Nut, Nerdy Book Club, and Word Spelunking

The Haunter, by R.L. Stine, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Land of Stories: An Author's Odyssey, by Chris Colfer, at This Kid Reviews Books and by me at the B. and N. Kids Blog

The Littlest Bigfoot, by Jennifer Weiner, at Jean Little Library

Loki's Wolves, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at Good Books and Good Wine

The Lost Coloney (Artemis Fowl Book 5), by Eoin Colfer, at Say What?

The Mage of Trelian, by Michelle Knudsen, at Say What?

The Magic Mirror, by Zetta Elliott, at @HomeLibrarian

A Most Magical Girl, by Karen Foxlee, at Word Spelunking

Odin's Ravens, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison, at Nayu's Reading Corner

The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, by Lauren DeStefano, at Welcome to My Tweendom

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at Always in the Middle

Authors and Interviews

David Neilsen (Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom) at books4yourkids.com and The Book Monsters

Jennifer A. Nielsen (The Scourge) at Teens Read Too

Michelle Harrison (The Other Alice) at Nayu's Reading Corner and Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Natalie Lloyd (The Key to Extraordinary) at the B. and N. Kids Blog

Kelly Barnhill (The Girl Who Drank the Moon) at The Horn Book


Giveaways

A Most Magical Girl, by Karen Foxlee, at Word Spelunking

Other Good Stuff

Tolkien's St. Bernard interviewed sixty years ago, at Project Mayhem

A thoughtful post from Tanita Davis about "clean" reads and young teens who aren't quite wanting to read full on YA.

At B. and N. Kids, I have a list of books that aren't sad or scary that includes several MG Spec Fic books


This Week's Round Up of Middle Grade Sci fi and Fantasy from around the blogs (8/7/16)

Here's what I found this week.  Let me know if I missed your post; bloglovin turned ugly on me, so if you posted something on Monday or Tuesday, I might not have seen it....

The Reviews

Alistair Grim's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at The Book Monsters

The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase, by Wendy Mass, at Read Till Dawn

The Carpet People, by Terry Pratchett, at Back to Books

Crown of Earth, by Hilari Bell, at Leaf's Reviews

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, by David Nielsen, at The Book Monsters, The Reading Nook Reviews, Literary Hoots, and My Brain on Books

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Pages Unbound, Book Nut, Nerdy Book Club, and Word Spelunking

The Haunter, by R.L. Stine, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Land of Stories: An Author's Odyssey, by Chris Colfer, at This Kid Reviews Books and by me at the B. and N. Kids Blog

The Littlest Bigfoot, by Jennifer Weiner, at Jean Little Library

Loki's Wolves, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at Good Books and Good Wine

The Lost Coloney (Artemis Fowl Book 5), by Eoin Colfer, at Say What?

The Mage of Trelian, by Michelle Knudsen, at Say What?

The Magic Mirror, by Zetta Elliott, at @HomeLibrarian

A Most Magical Girl, by Karen Foxlee, at Word Spelunking

Odin's Ravens, by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison, at Nayu's Reading Corner

The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart, by Lauren DeStefano, at Welcome to My Tweendom

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at Always in the Middle

Authors and Interviews

David Neilsen (Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom) at books4yourkids.com and The Book Monsters

Jennifer A. Nielsen (The Scourge) at Teens Read Too

Michelle Harrison (The Other Alice) at Nayu's Reading Corner and Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Natalie Lloyd (The Key to Extraordinary) at the B. and N. Kids Blog

Kelly Barnhill (The Girl Who Drank the Moon) at The Horn Book


Giveaways

A Most Magical Girl, by Karen Foxlee, at Word Spelunking

Other Good Stuff

Tolkien's St. Bernard interviewed sixty years ago, at Project Mayhem

A thoughtful post from Tanita Davis about "clean" reads and young teens who aren't quite wanting to read full on YA.

At B. and N. Kids, I have a list of books that aren't sad or scary that includes several MG Spec Fic books


7/31/16

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (7/31/16)

So this is of course the week where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out; I haven't bought it yet, and am unsure--how is it? But in any event, here's this week's round-up!  Let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

The Curse of the Were-Hyena, by Bruce Hale, at Charlotte's Library

Darkmouth: the Legend Beings, by Shane Hegarty, at Say What?

The Dragon of Trelian (Trelian Book 1),by Michelle Knudsen, at Say What?

The Dragonfly Effect, by Gordon Korman, at Always in the Middle

Herobrine’s Message, by Sean Fay Wolfe, at This Kid Reviews Books

Max Helsing and the Thirteenth Curse, by Curtis Jobling, at Jean Little Library

The Monkey King's Daughter, by T. A. DeBonis, at At Home Librarian

A Most Magical Girl, by Karen Foxlee, at Book Swoon

The Nocturnals: The Ominous Eye (Nocturnals #2), by Tracey Hecht, at Mom Read It

Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, at Time Travel Times Two

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald, at Pages Unbound

The Princess of Trelian (Trelian Book 2) by Michelle Knudsen, at Say What?

Race to the South Pole (Ranger in Time, #4), by Kate Messner, at Time Travel Times Two

The Scourge, by Jennifer Nielsen, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey, at Leaf's Reviews

Serafina and the Twisted Staff, by Robert Beatty, at Geo Librarian

The Serpent's Curse, by Tony Abbott at Boys Rule Boys Read (audiobook recommendation)

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at Randomly Reading

The Shadow Cadets of Pennyroyal Academy (Pennyroyal Academy #2) by M.A. Larson, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragaon

Space Hostages, by Sophia McDougall, at Charlotte's Library

The Sword in the Stacks (Ninja Librarians Book 2), by Jen Swann Downey, at The Book Wars

Teddycats, by Mike Storey, at Mom Read It

Time Cat, by Lloyd Alexander, at Becky's Book Reviews

Through the Mirror Door, by Sarah Baker, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Two at Log Cabin Library-The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, and The Lost Compass, by Joel Ross

Authors and Interviews

Kit Grindstaff (The Flame in the Mist) at The Reading Nook

Other Good Stuff

Dwarfs, Pixies and the “Little Dark People”  at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

7/30/16

Space Hostages, by Sophia McDougall

https://www.amazon.com/Space-Hostages-Evacuees-Sophia-McDougall/dp/0062294024/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1469926093&sr=8-1&keywords=space+hostages
Space Hostages, by Sophia McDougall (HarperCollins, February 2016), is the sequel to Mars Evacuees, one of my favorites of last year (here's my review), and of course I had been meaning to get to it for ages, and am very glad I finally did! And though the echoes of English children's books about WW II evacuations, one of the things that made me warm right up to Mars Evacuee.,  aren't in this one, it is very good indeed on its own terms, and really hits the notes I look for in good sci fi for young readers.

Alice and the other "plucky kids" (as the media has dubbed them) from the first book, Josephine ( whose a supersmart black girl, adding diversity to the ensemble), Carl, Noel, and Thsaaa (the alien Morror the human kids befriend edon Mars, stopping a war between their species in the process, who also adds non-binary gender diversity), are headed off into space again.  This time it's to celebrate the completion of a new home world for the Morror.  The most advanced spaceship on Earth, the almost sentient Helen, is going to take them there, and it will be a fun trip and a chance to enjoy each other's company in civilized circumstances.

But this isn't what happens.  An alien race, the Krakkiluks, already had plans in place to make the new home of the Morrors part of their great expansion--a colonizing sweep through vast reaches of space.  And so they capture the Earth space ship, and hold its occupants hostage in exchange for the un-terraforming of the contested world.  The kids, however, turn out to be bad hostages.  Two get thrown out of an airlock, and one leaps out to save them (along with the robot goldfish teacher readers of the first book will remember fondly); the other two engage in a desperate effort (made less desperate by Morror technology) to reach the space ship Helen, free all the other humans, and escape.

The kids who left the Krakkiluk ship in abrupt and potentially fatal circumstances live, and end up crash-landing on an alien planet. The planet has already been subsumed by the great expanse of the Krakkiluk, and its people are de facto slaves, controlled by pain.   The kids hook up with the resistance movement, and more things go wrong....but then they go right and it all works out (this was me feeling that the book should just be read, and not synopsized, but I wanted to get the political/social dynamic into the synopsis somehow, because it leads to a Point).

The Point--one of the great things about science fiction is that it can make you think in new ways about your own society, causing genuine growth in the reader without triggering defensive reactions because after all it isn't real.  The great expanse of the Krakkiluk and their oppression of colonized peoples is oh so familiar, but it's not presented as a didactic moral lesson; instead it's part of a really fun and exciting sci fi adventure in space with aliens and cool creature and landscapes and space ships and all the good stuff. (The alien planet is really fun sci fi exploration, and fortunately the Goldfish is able to help with the communication issues).

So basically Mars Evacuees and Space Hostages are my go to books if anyone asks me for a sci fi recommendation for an 11-13 year old.  They are fun and thought-provoking, and what more can one ask? (I wouldn't read Space Hostages without having read M.E. though.  It's possible, but not very pointful).

Note on 13 year olds--13 is technically over the age limit for middle grade.  But now that I have a 13 year old of my own, he is not showing any signs of wanting to move toward YA.  He still identifies as a kid, and so I am upping my own MG age limit to 13 in his honor......and getting Mars Evacuees out of the library for him. 

So the Kirkus reviewer liked Space Hostages too, and gave it a curious piece of praise I've never seen before--"The surprise plot twists are genuinely surprising, and there are moments when it really seems possible the main characters won’t survive."    So there you go-if you like worrying about people in really serious danger in space, this one's for you!

7/26/16

Dino-Mike and the T. Rex Attack for Timeslip Tuesday

If you have a six to eight year old who loves dinosaurs and is reading at the Early Chapter Book level of large font and generous spacing and who really thinks it would be cool to have a Dino Jacket full of dino special effects and neat gadgets, by all means try Dino-Mike and the T. Rex Attack (Stone Arch Books, March 2015) , written and illustrated by Franco. It's the first in a series of dino-filled adventures staring Mike, who has just such a jacket, and who meets lots of dinosaurs over the course of his adventures.

For reasons never made convincing (in this first book at least), some people think they should bring back the dinosaurs, using time travel to do so, resulting in a rouge T. Rex rampaging around the dig where Mike is hanging with his paleontologist dad.  For reasons that do not require explanation, there are other people working to stop the dinosaur lovers, and in this case a oprative named Shannon, a girl a bit older than Mike, has been given the task of capturing the T. Rex.  

T Rexs are hard to capture, especially so if there's an enemy agent working against you.  Mike and Shannon have lots of close calls and there are lots of exciting dinosaur chases (some dinosaur chasing kid, some kid chasing dinosaur).  The time travel part, though not explored in great detail, added interest, and leaves lots of room for further books.  Generously sprinkled illustrations of big eyed kids (and big toothed T. Rex)  add to the young-reader friendly-ness of the mix.

This book, however, made a mistake that annoys me no end. A paleontological excavation for fossils is not an "archaeological dig" and Mike's dad had no business saying so.

There are other books about Dino-Mike, one of which, Dino-Mike and the Jurassic Portal, sounds more time-travel focused than The T. Rex attack, which serves more as an introduction to the scenario, and so I will probably look out for it, though I'm not sure I feel the need to read all eight books in the series (six currently out, plus two more coming August 1, 2016)
 
So if you are the target audience, enjoy them!  I'm not, but still they seem to me the sort of books that are a good gateway to a life of geeky spec fic reading....



7/25/16

The Curse of the Were-Hyena, by Bruce Hale

If you are looking for a book to offer a third to fifth grader who likes supernatural mayhem mixed with the real world, The Curse of the Were-Hyena, by Bruce Hale is a good one!

What do you do when your favorite teacher starts acting very strangely indeed, chasing chickens around the classroom and suddenly sprouting hair on his very bald head?  Best friends Carlos and Benny decide to figure out what's going on, with the help of the owner of their favorite comic book store (a former wrestling star, now using a wheelchair).  She's a font of information on the supernatural, as well as running a great store!  But then what do you do when you realize that he's turning into a were-hyena, a curse that will be permanent by the time the next full moon arrives (in just a few days) and that (as is the normal way of were-creatures) there must be at least one other were-hyena in town who bit him?

Carlos and Benny are determined to find a cure for Mr. Chu, even if it involves breaking into the town museum, being trapped in a tree by an angry were-hyena, and hanging out in a cemetery at night with hyena bait on hand.  They get almost more than they bargained for, but happily all goes well...though the story ends with the promise of more monster hunting to come.

It's a fast read, with lots to chuckle at, and the descriptions are very vivid. Young readers who like monster stories will eat it up.  The supernatural escapades are leavened by real life threads of friend and family issues, and those looking for diversity in their reading will appreciate Mexican-American Carlos (and the wheelchair-using comic store owner).

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.

7/24/16

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (7/24/16)

The letter C (my favorite letter, naturally) did rather well in this week's round-up, although perennial frontrunner S still won.  Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Calling on Dragons, by Patricia Wrede, at Lunar Rainbows

A Clatter of Jars, by Lisa Graff, at My Brain On Books

Cogheart, by Peter Bunzl, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Copper Gauntlet, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Got My Book (audiobook review_

The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

The Curse of the Were-Hyena, by Bruce Hale, at Prose and Kahn

The Drake Equation, by Bart King, at Always in the Middle

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, by David Neilsen, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Fire Bringer, by David Clement-Davies, at Leaf's Reviews

Fuzzy, by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dillinger, at Sharon the Librarian

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, by Cahterynne M. Valente, at Falling Letters

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, at Nerdy Book Club

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field, at Kidlitgeek

The Might Odds, by Amy Ignatow, at Fuse #8

The Ministry of Ghosts, by Alex Shearer, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, at The Book Wars

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee, by Erin Petti, at Middle Grade Mafioso

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, at Semicolon

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, by Vivian Vande Velde, at Leaf's Reviews

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at BooksForKidsBlog

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at Michelle I. Mason

Shadows of the Dark Crystal (#1), by J. M. Lee, at Mom Read It

The Shattered Lens (Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians #4) by Brandon Sanderson, at Geo Librarian

Space Hostages, by Sophia McDougall, at Bibliobrit

Summons (Fable Rangers #1) by A.L. Brown, at Sharon the Librarian

The Thief's Apprentice, by Bryan Methods, at This Kid Reviews Books

Authors and Interviews

Sarah Beth Durst (The Girl Who Could Not Dream) at Finding Wonderland

N. Cauldron (Anya and the Secrets of Cupola) at Carpinello's Writing Pages

Other Good Stuff

Ursula Le Guin announces "the Big Book of Earthsea," illustrated by Charles Vass, at Book View Café, and talks about how they are working together to make her dragons just right.

NASA sends Groot and Rocket into space, on a mission patch! Via io9

Via 100 Scope Notes, here's a Moomin documentary

Covering the Dark Is Rising at The Booklist Reader

A Toothless couch for all the How to Train Your Dragon fans, via Tor

The latest trailer for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them can be seen at Tor

And finally, I am the program organizer for Kidlitcon 2016, and I need programs to organize!  Here's a post I wrote with information and ideas.


7/23/16

Kidliton 2016--looking for panelists!

For the third year in a row, I find myself in charge of organizing the panels for Kidlitcon, which this year takes place in Wichita this October.  Kidlitcon is an annual conference primarily of children's book bloggers, although authors, librarians, teachers, readers, and publishers are all part of the mix.

The theme this year is  Gatekeepers and Keymasters: Connecting bloggers, librarians, teachers, authors, and parents to promote literacy.  Adults are the ones with the money (though not necessarily enough money!) who buy children's books, and we want to talk about how this role plays out in real life--the challenges we face, the opportunities available, the ways to be the best Gatekeepers we can be (or even how we can subvert the gatekeeping process, to let kids play a role in their own choices).

So there's lots to talk about, and we need people to come to Wichita to talk about it!  You can email me directly with ideas (charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com), or fill out the submission form found here. (but please don't delay too long--I want to have a solid program by the second week of August).

We've gotten some good proposals already, but we need more.  Here are some ideas for panels that I'd personally be interested in (though please come up with your own ideas too!).  There's redundancy in the ideas I share here, but with different slants.  I would really really really like diversity  to be part of the conference, but because we are small (aka we have no money) we can't invite speakers and waive the registration fee, so I can't make that happen by myself.

Checking Privilege and Bias--big issues, useful tips (gender, race, religion, disability, sexuality, politics, economic inequalities)

Beyond the book review--using your blog to talk about what matters to you (having built an audience for your blog, you have the opportunity to shape discourse on other book/literacy issues--I'd love to hear other bloggers talk about how they've done this!)

What is "middle grade?"  How do gatekeepers judge/evaluate/promote books for this age group (9-12)

Who is the audience?  reviewing (and writing books, for any interested authors) with an eye toward the "right" reader

Finding hidden gems- reviewing and promoting great books from small publishers and self-published books

How do we judge is "good."  Critical reviewing, going beyond our own preferences, acknowledging bias, being mindful.  How can we be critical outside our own areas of experience and expertise?

Who is the reader-- Identifying readers for whom a book might truly resonate

Being part of a community, in real life and in the Kidlitosphere

One from last year that I wasn't able to go to that could serve as a springboard for another panel-- Authentic Voices Pam Margolis and Liz Burns
"The importance of diverse representation in children’s fiction and nonfiction is becoming more widely recognized in the children’s book community. But as important as it is to have diverse books, it’s just as important that they be authentic. As bloggers, how can we do our part? Evaluating diverse representations can be difficult if we don’t have any direct experience or knowledge of the represented group. This panel will look at the issues of authentic representation in children’s literature and important considerations for bloggers, with a particular focus on books featuring LGBTQA+ and differently-abled people"


Making the most of alternate platforms and social media (podcasts, book tube, and all the other things social media)

Author and bloggers and publishers working together.  Such a panel was presented in 2011, and could be revisited)
"Bloggers and Writers and Pubs! Oh My!
Presented and facilitated by Pam Coughlan and Liz Burns, with Kirby Larson and Zoe Luderitz
In Bloggers and Writers and Pubs! Oh My! the panel will explore the relationships of the various members of the children’s literature industry. The age of social media is blurring the already indistinct boundaries between reviewer and author, blogger and publisher, author and publicist. The opportunities of this new communication and collaboration are extraordinary, but the questions are also increasing in terms of disclosure, standards, and professionalism. This panel hopes to address these issues with input and questions from the attendees."

another from 2011 I'd like to hear more about--
"The Future of Transmedia Storytelling: Angel Punk, Pottermore, and Skeleton Creek
Presented by Amber Keyser, Devon Lyon, Matthew Wilson, and Jake Rossman
Transmedia storytelling refers to the delivery of story through a variety of media.  These forms can include film, graphic novels, traditional books, flash fiction, iPhone/iPad delivery of content, and various forms of audio.  Typically, story lines are interwoven and connected but not strictly repetitive.  Often, fan engagement and participation in the creative process are facilitated by social media.  J.K. Rowling’s new venture, Pottermore, is an excellent example that promises to extend and enhance the experience of the Harry Potter series. Increasingly, all media forms - books, movies, games and TV shows - are looking for transmedia opportunities. During this session, the AngelPunk.co team discusses their approach to transmedia storytelling and gives an inside look into the complex structure necessary to delivery story via novels, feature film, comic books, and an interactive fan site."

Beyond fiction--Looking at STEM books and non-fiction

and a few other perennial favorites--

Balancing the Personal and Professional on your blog (for authors and bloggers), blogging the backlist, boy books/girl books, group blogging....

So once again, please come be part of the conversation at Kidlitcon 2016!  You can email me directly with ideas (charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com), or fill out the submission form found here. (please don't delay too long--I want to have a solid program by the second week of August!)




7/20/16

Roses, by Rose Mannering

Roses, by Rose Mannering (Sky Pony Press), went on my to-be-read list when it first came out in 2013, and I read the Kirkus review--"A lyrical, remarkably unusual retelling breeds new life into the “Beauty and the Beast” tale." But other books happened, and I would periodically look at it in my Amazon cart and sigh, and continue to want to read it.  So I was very happy when I was offered a review copy to coincide with the new paperback edition and sat down with high hopes.

We meet Beauty as an orphan, taken in by a wealthy woman who doesn't actually want her (the backstory to this is revealed as the story progresses) and she's unloved, unwanted, and freakishly strange--her skin is silvery and her hair is white, making her name, which is thrown at her for lack of anything better, seem at first ironic.  In a country building up to paranoid hatred for magic and magical persons, being not entirely human looking is a huge strike against her.

When the magic-haters take over her home city, Beauty is taken up into the hills by the family's horseman (the one person who truly cares for her) and still not yet adult, starts a new life with him there in the village he came from.  But the villagers in the hills also think she is strange, and her protector's own biological daughter who he left behind as a baby is (naturally) jealous as heck that her father loves the odd orphan girl more than her. Then the violence that drove Beauty from her first home catches up to her in the hills, and the Beast story enters the picture, and so to save her foster father after he took a rose from the magical castle in the forest, she goes to live with the beast.

Fans of Robin McKinley's Beauty will enjoy the next part, because Roses is essentially the same, down to the world of the garden reflecting the weakening of the spell, the magical  library, the horse that is Beauty's best friend.  I loved this part, and wish it had started before page 179.  There are some diffence, enough to make it interesting, but it felt very familiar in general.

The problem with beginning a book when the main character is a baby is that it is tedious to watch her grow up. I feel I had gotten the point of Beauty's unhappy childhood in the big house in the city long before that part of the story was over, and I felt like I was slogging a bit. Bits of interest about the world and its magic/non-magic tensions hinted at a larger story to come, but it had never fully materialized even by the end of the book.  Getting up in the hill country, where Beauty starts taming wild horses, was good, and getting to the castle was better.  But I kept feeling that the author repeatedly was making points that I'd already grasped, or hinting at, but not fully grappling with, the larger story, which made me feel somewhat frustrated

The larger social issues of violence against magical beings swings into the story's ending, rather abruptly and with no particular emotional resonance because of feeling rushed.  There's definitly lots of room for more story to happen, as Beauty learns who her parents are and becomes more aware of her own powers of magic and figures out how to use them.

Roses did have something that's rather rare in fantasy--religion is a cherished part of the lives of several main characters, praying brings comfort, and the village priest up in the mountains is wise and compassionate, though we don't hear much about the dogma of the religion.  Religion as part o daily life, that brings comfort (as opposed to angry gods and cults of savage priests) is something so seldom mentioned in YA fantasy that it was a refreshing change.

Final thought--didn't quite work for me mostly for reasons of personal preference but also because of a feeling that the larger Magic vs the World plot and Absent Magical Parents plot was unevenly woven into the story.  And also because the Castle part felt rather too familiar.

That being said, give this one to a horse loving young teen who likes fairy tales, and I bet they will enjoy it lots!

The second book in this trilogy, Feathers, has just been released--though it seems more companion than sequel, I'm invested enough in this world and it's problems that it's now on my reading list, and hopefully will be read in a more timely fashion than was the case with Roses!

7/17/16

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (7/17/16)

No contributions from me this week (except one at B. and N.); I've been in deadline mode for a work side of my life project...but here are the posts from others; please let me know if I missed anything!

The Reviews

The Apprentice Witch, by James Nicol, at Playing by the Book (with bonus (lovely) charm making!)

Brightwood, by Tania Unsworth, at Hidden in Pages

The Girl of Ink and Shadows, by Kiran Millwood, at Bart's Bookshelf

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Jana The Teacher

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Hidden in Pages

The Goblin's Puzzle: Being the Adventures of a Boy with No Name and Two Girls Called Alice, by Andrew S. Chilton, at Fantasy Book Critic

The Lost Compass, by Joel Ross, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Opal Deception (Artemis Fowl 4), by Eoin Colfer, at Say What?

The Peddler's Road, by Matthew Cody, at Say What?

The Prophet of Yonwood, by Jeanne DuPrau, at Leaf's Reviews

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Ferrey, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Seraphina and the Twisted Staff, by Robert Beatty, at B. and N. Kids Blog

The Seventh Element (Voyagers 6), by Wendy Mass, at Say What?

The Shadow Cadets of Pennyroyal Academy, by M.A. Larson, at On Starships and Dragonwings (audiobook review)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier, at Life With the Tribe

Sparkers. by Eleanor Glewwe, at Finding Wonderland

The Sword in the Stacks (Ninja Librarians 2), by Jen Swann Downey, at Nerdy Book Club and To Read or Not to Read?

The Wish, by Gail Carson Levine, at Read Till Dawn

Authors and Interviews

James Nicol (The Apprentice Witch) at Nayu's Reading Corner

Giveaways

Serafina and the Twisted Staff, by Robert Beatty, at The Children's Book Review, and Both Serafina books at Mother Daughter Book Reviews

Other Good Stuff

Philip Pullman has a middle grade graphic novel coming out-- The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship; read more at Tor.

Warrior series read-alikes at Jean Little Library

Ellen DeGeneres is producing the movie version of Ursula Vernon's Castle Hangnail! (I love that book!)  More here.

7/10/16

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (july 10, 2016)

Here are the middle grade fantasy and sci fi posts I found in my combing of book blogs this week; please let me know if I missed yours!

The Reviews

Alcatraz VS The Evil Librarians, by Brandon Sanderson, at Lunar Rainbows

The Beginner's Guide to Curses: Spellchasers 1, by Lari Don, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Big Dark, by Rodman Philbrick, at Say What?

The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase, by Wendy Mass, at Say What?

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox, at Leaf's Reviews

The Curse of the Were-Hyena, by Bruce Hale, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Darkstalker, by Tui T. Sutherland, at Charlotte's Library

The Forgotten Sisters,by Shannon Hale, at Reading Violet

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Lazy Day Literature

Grayling's Song, by Karen Cushman, at the NY Times, and Cracking the Cover

The Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan, at Book Munchies

The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz, at Fuse #8

The Knights of Crystallia (Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians #3), by Brandon Sanderson, at Geo Librarian

The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, by Robin Yardi, at Jean Little Library

The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price, by Jennifer Maschari, at Randomly Reading

School of the Dead, by Avi, at Say What?

Serafina and the Twisted Staff, by Robert Beatty, at The Book Smugglers

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile, Charlotte's Library, and Welcome to My (New) Tweendom

The Silver Bowl, by Diane Stanley, at Leaf's Reviews

Thor: Dueling with Giants, by Keith R.A. DeCandido, at Diary of a Reading Addict

The Voyage to Magical North, by Claire Fayers,at On Starships and Dragonwings and Barnes and Noble Kids Blog

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown, at Waking Brain Cells

Zahrah the Windseeker, by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, at @HomeLibrarian

Authors and Interviews

Bontle Senne (Shadow Chasers Book 1: Powers of the Knife), at The Book Fairy's Haven (a South African debut)

Giveaways

Serafina and the Black Cloak and Serafina and the Twisted Staff, by Robert Beatty, at The Book Smugglers

Other Good Stuff

Not much other good stuff in this sad, sad week.  But here's what I have.

The Guardian Children's Fiction Prize long list is up, and even though it's not middle grade, I am in love with this cover in particular (it's an Othello retelling in space).

Kidlitcon 2016 is coming this October in Wichita, Kansas!  Kidlitcon is a conference of book bloggers and others interested in wide-ranging conversations about children's books.  This year's theme is Gatekeepers and Keymasters: Connecting bloggers, librarians, teachers, authors, and parents to promote literacy.   The call for presenters is currently open; if you would like to be part of a panel, but don't feel ready to organize one yourself, please sent me an email (charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com) to let me know what you might be interested in talking about!

And also on the horizon are the Cybils Awards, given by bloggers.  Now is the time to start thinking about applying to be a panelist--it is open to all bloggers, and we welcome new folks!  So get your sample posts ready for the category of your choosing. Here's a Cybils information post I did last year.  All of you who's blogs regularly appear in these round ups--do consider applying in Middle Grade Speculative Fiction (the category for which I am organizer).  It is lots of fun.


7/7/16

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner (Bloomsbury, June 2016), spins off of the fairytale of the fisherman and the wish-granting fish a middle-grade contemporary story dealing with the hard issue of drug addiction.

Charlie misses her big sister Abby, in her first year at college, but she's happy to fill her time with her friends and her relatively new passion for Irish dancing.  Ice-fishing brings in a bit of extra cash to help her buy just the right shinny dress for her Irish dance competitions...and it brings magic into her life when she catches a fish that grants wishes. 

As is so often the case with hasty wishes, they don't go quite right--her friend Drew didn't actually want to make it onto the basketball team, and her mother's new, and much-wanted/needed job means that sometimes what Charlie wants has to go out the window.  And there's the fish's mix-up between Roberto Sullivan, the boy Charlie wants to have a crush on her, and Bobby O'Sullivan, the boy that now is infatuated with her.  But these problems pale into comparison when more serious trouble enters her family--smart, athletic, beautiful Abby has become a heroin addict, and there's no way to wish that away forever.

But Charlie's family is strong enough to hold together, and Charlie is strong enough to realize that she can't make everything all better with wishes, or promises from Abby never to use drugs again.  So even when the seventh wish is gone, and the magic fades away, though there's no guarantee that everything will be all better, there is hope.

The topic of drug addiction is a serious one, that is taken seriously in the story,  It's disturbing how easy Abby's path to heroin was--starting with the familiar, readily available Adderall and moving on down the line.  It's clear how easily substance abuse can take over someone's life, even if that person has a loving family and lots going for them.  And it's clear that Abby's never going to be truly out of the woods, and that what seemed like it should be an easy path through life for her is now gone. 

But this darkness isn't presented in any graphic or overpowering way that is inappropriate for middle grade readers (9-12 year olds). The Seventh Wish still manages to be a warm, friendly, and funny story.  Charlie grieves, is angry, is resentful, is in denial--all the things that one would expect from a middle school kid.  But she's a strong enough person with a strong enough family to still be aware of the good and the funny and the beautiful things in life, and Kate Messenr shares such things generously.  Charlie learns, with some help from the Serentity prayer, that there are some things she can change for the better without magic, and that she can still love her sister. (And poor magic-ed Bobby O'Sullivan gets a nice ending too once the magic wears off....)

The drug addiction in The Seventh Wish triggered some backlash (you can read about it at Kate Messner's blog).  But gee, kids don't live in bubble wrap, and why the heck not encourage them to read an educating, eye-opening story about a huge real-world problem (or for some kids, a story that's personally familiar that might make them feel less alone) that's also a good, fun story?

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher




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