23 Minutes, by Vivian Vande Velde, for Timeslip Tuesday

23 Minutes, by Vivian Vande Velde (Boyds Mills Press, April 2016), is most definitely a time slip book, but there's no need to worry about cultural difficulties caused by time travel here...

Zoe has an odd gift--she can do-over 23 minute sections of the past (with limits-only ten times per 23 minutes, and she can't let time go on past the 23rd minute or it gets locked in place).  So when she takes sheter from a rain storm in a bank, and a bank robber comes in with a gun, and it ends with a charismatic young man having his brains blown out because he was protecting her, and other people dying as well, she most definitely wants a do-over.  But she can't seem to make anything better.  Different people, sometimes more people, die when she changes the past. 

She decides to call on the man who saved her to see if he can help figure out how to change things, but since his memories reset each time, it's tricky.  And when it turns out he and the robber know each other, that makes things trickier.  But Zoe keeps trying. 

So it's primarily a sort of logic game--what can be changed to make better outcomes happen?  It's also a close psychological study of what's going on in Zoe's mind as she sees the shootings time after time, and gets increasingly desperate.  She has demons of her own to confront, and she's had to get used to taking care of herself after being placed in foster care, and now she must trust this stranger to help her...a stranger who's able to trust her even when she can't quite trust herself. Even though the focus is on these particular minutes, Zoe gets plenty of time to reflect and remember her own life, and so she becomes real and important to the reader.

I really like Vivian Vande Velde's writing.  Her characters are always briskly and a tad smart-aleckly real and relatable and her stories are quick moving and full of zest.   This one was especially fun, because the reader is allowed lots of room along with Zoe to try to figure out what little things to change to get a better outcome! 


Mister Cleghorn's Seal, by Judith Kerr

Mister Cleghorn's Seal (HarperCollins, June 2016) is Judith Kerr's first children's novel in 37 years!  It is a charmer, a book that is especially lovely for reading out loud with a 5 or 6 year old, because it's the sort of story with shifts in direction at just the right sort of places to stop for the night, and because it has friendly, sweet illustrations (lots of the titular baby seal) that are great for sharing with a child.

Mister Cleghorn is bored and at loose ends after selling the store he ran for years and years.  So for the first time he says yes to an invitation to visit family by the ocean.  And there he meets a baby seal, who one of the family's kids has been visiting regularly.  They watch as its mother comes to feed and tend it...but then one day the mother seal doesn't come.  The fishermen have been shooting seals, who they see as competition for the fish.  And without a mother, the baby seal will starve.

So Mister Cleghorn decides to take it back to town with him, and find a home for it in the local zoo.

Travelling with the seal goes surprisingly well, but of course the zoo is closed when they get to town.  So Mister Cleghorn brings the seal home, and installs it in the bathtub, with the water dripping to keep it happy...and this results in him meeting the neighbor downstairs, when the tub floods! 

She's a very nice person, and fond of animals, and becomes his ally in seal keeping.  And he needs an  ally, for the zoo has fallen on bad times, with shiftless, careless owners, and it's no place for a young seal.  Mister Cleghorn's apartment isn't great either...especially since the caretaker forbids any animals at all.

Happily, a solution is found that makes everyone happy.  It's a really nice ending that solves the problem of the zoo as well, and includes Mister Cleghorn and his neighbor falling in love.  So it's a good story, nicely told, with just enough tension to keep it going, and without so much emphasis on the death of the seal mother to upset the sensitive young (although they might be, a little).

One reason I'm happy to recommend it is that I think it's good for kids to see old folks in stories having interesting lives, and trying new things, and starting new adventures, and falling in love.  It makes a refreshing counter-narrative to the stereotypes of old age!  Because it is about an "old" man, it might not appeal immediately to the independent reader, but if that reader is an animal fan, the charming seal drawings will suck them in....

So all in all, a pleasure!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (6/19/16)

Here's what I found this week.  Please let me know if I missed your post, and if you are the author of a mg sci fi/fantasy book, please don't be shy about emailing me links to reviews at any time (charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com)!  I follow about 500 blogs, winnowing out the MG sci fi/fantasy, but 500 blogs is but a drop in the bucket, and I do so miss Google Blog Search (for a while the work-around way to do it worked, but it doesn't seem to anymore).  I also am quite capable of deleting links by accident, not knowing a book is mg sci fi/fantasy, etc. 

The Reviews

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox, at Randomly Reading

A Clatter of Jars, by Lisa Graff, at Word Spelunking (scroll down for review)

The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker by E. D. Baker, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Goblin’s Puzzle by Andrew S. Chilton, at Redeemed Reader

The Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan, at Redeemed Reader

The Inn Between by Marina Cohen, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Scrivener's Bones by Brandon Sanderson, at Geo Librarian

Searching for Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, at Lunar Rainbows

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey, at On Starships and Dragonwings

The Sword in the Stacks, by Jen Swann Downey, at Charlotte's Library

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Under Their Skin, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Say What?

The Whatnot (The Peculiar #2) by Stefan Bachmann, at The Book Wars

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown, at That's Another Story

Withering-by-Sea, by Judith Rossell, at Charlotte's Library

Authors and Interviews

Jen Swann Downey (Sword in the Stacks) at The Reading Nook Reviews and From the Mixed-Up Files

Kate Messner (The Seventh Wish) at Bookriot  (and more about Kate Messner and The Seventh Wish and being dis-invited to a school event here at School Library Journal and at Kate Messners own bloghttp://www.katemessner.com/blog/

Giveaways (New feature--please email me if you are running a giveaway of a MG Spec fic book)

Sword in the Stacks at Fangirlnation (through June 30)

The Ministry of Ghosts at Fangirlnation (through June 19)

Lisa Graff book bundle at Word Spelunking (through June 24)

Other Good Stuff

Here's a new trailer and release date for The Little Prince movie

Make lego shaped gummies! (via io9)


The Sword in the Stacks (Ninja Librarians Book 2) by Jen Swann Downey, for Timeslip Tuesday

Imagine of all the lost libraries of history all ended up in a sanctuary for persecuted libraries in a space outside of ordinary time, and imagine if those libraries (complete with their own gardens, weather, and of course books/scrolls/clay tablets/potsherds with writing on them etc.) were home to a brave society of champions of the written word, "Lybrarians" flinging themselves through time to save books and book writers in danger.  This is the setting for Jen Swann Downey's Ninja Librarian series, the second book of which, The Sword in the Stacks (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, June 2016) has just been released, and just been read by me with much enjoyment (here's my review of the first book, which I also enjoyed).

Dorrie and her brother Marcus stumbled into this collection of libraries by accident in book 1, and found that they had the ability to open the doors between different times, something the Lybrarians naturally value highly.  After a brief visit at home in the real world, the two are back for more training and more adventures.  There's a threat to the Lybrarians' work--a counter-movement of those who would restrict books, and reading, and public dissemination of words and ideas to a very few, and the chief work of the Lybrarians is to foil their efforts.   The leader of this movement has been captured by the Lybrarians, but the threat to the history of books and writers has by no means been neutralized, and there is much tension and adventure and time-travelling and clue finding as Dorrie and her fellow trainees try to help set things right.

And in the meantime there's time travel back to ancient Greece to argue with Aristotle, time travel to early 20th century London where Dorrie and her best friend Ebba get involved with both suffragettes and anit-suffragettes, and time travel including uncomfortable camel riding to Timbuktu as part of the bad-guy foiling.  Even more in the meantime, there's Lybrarian training for the young apprentices--sword fighting (with Cyrano de Bergeraces), codes and cyphers, sailing, near-drowning, and more. And there's also exploration of the whole complex of libraries, the consumption of tasty snacks, the care and keeping of a deadly lizard, and a cute baby seal.

More mundanly, Dorrie is also plagued by guilt (for what happened in the first book) and self-doubt (is she really Lybrarian material?) and there is a mean girl who (as is just about always the case) has a backstory of reasons why she is mean.

So this is a book just jam packed with lots and lots of story, and it is all tremendously interesting!  It might seem like there's so much here that it's too frenetic to enjoy, but it all hangs together around the central character of Dorrie, who is relatable enough and introspective enough to keep things centered. Though Dorrie and Marcus are not identified as anything other than white, the cast of characters around them (reflecting the diversity of the world's libraries) is very diverse. Dorrie's friend Ebba, who is the next main character in terms of page time, is from Mali, for instance.

Happily, Sword in the Stacks starts with a nice explanation of the whole set up given to Dorrie and Marcus' parents, so even if your memories of the first book are fuzzy, you will soon find your feet again and be ready to follow along as the world is saved (or at least, progress made on saving) from book burners!

For fans of time travel, I think this one offers more than the first did in terms of actual contemplation of difference--not just bouncing in and out, but reflection and exploration (this is particularly true of Dorrie and Ebba's adventures with women's suffrage, which is good Time Travel qua Time Travel reading.  For fans of books and history, there are just tons of literary reference to enjoy, and there's a nice glossary of people and places mentioned in the back.  This aspect of the book is a nice treat for established or budding intellectuals!

So in short a wildly entertaining, fun, fast read with food for the mind as well.

Disclaimer: copy of the book gratefully received from the author.


Withering-by-Sea, by Judith Rossell

If you like oppressed orphans, over-the-top adult oppressors who make said orphans sew samplers and balance books on their heads*, secrets that lead to murder in the night in a vast hotel, crashing waves around a crumbling tower,  bottled magical monsters panting to be free, and a villain determined to get his hands on said bottle, Withering-by-Sea, by Judith Rossell (Atheneum March 2016) is a book for you!

The Hotel Majestic might be big and grand, but its curative sulfurous waters hold no charms for young orphan Stella, and it offers few escapes from the unpleasant eyes of her three aunts.   Her only refuge is a tattered Atlas of the World, and one morning, while she is hiding behind ferns in the hotel conservatory, sneaking a bit of forbidden book time in, she sees a man hiding something in one of the plant pots....

And the thing he is hiding is wanted very badly by a nasty man whose repertoire of nasty incudes magical enslavement, murder, and kidnapping.  And when he learns through magical means that Stella has the thing that was hidden, which she promised its dying former guardian she would protect, Stella's dull and horrid life becomes one that is horrid in a much, much more interesting way!

This isn't grand epic fantasy of questy-ness and overthrowing dark lords etc.  It's a much more personal sort of adventure, tightly focused on Stella though with two other interesting kids thrown into the mix as well.   The settings (hotel, theatre, and crumbling tower) are all vividly made real, and the dangers Stella faces makes for riveting reading, once they get going.  Give this one to the 6th grader who enjoys fantasy that has a Victorianish feel, like Maryrose Woods' The Incorrigible
Children of Ashton Place series, or Lemony Snicket, or to any kids around  (though I don't know how likely this is) who are Joan Aiken fans.....

Withering-by-sea won tons of awards and honors in its Native Australia (deservedly so), and I just found out it's the start of a series, which makes me happy! That's the Australian cover at right; not sure why the US publishers decided to disguise the dashes in the hotel's name as curly thingies (it reads to me like a verb clause without clear dashes...)

*incidentally, book balancing is not in and of itself evil.  My sisters and I went through a brief phase of choosing to walk around with books on our heads.  We had obstacle courses and other challenges, and enjoyed it very much. I was also taught embroidery and my father read Silas Marner out loud while we (voluntarily) sewed.....but of course if these things are foced on you by harsh aunts it's a different story.


This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (6/12/16)

As ever, let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Arctic Code, by Matthew Kirby, at The Write Path

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, at Tales of the Marvelous

Charmed (Fairy Tale Reform School Book 2) by Jen Calonita, at Fantasy Book Critic

Demigods & Magicians, by Rick Riordan, at Jean Little Library

The Dragon Lantern (League of Seven Book 2), by Alan Gratz, at Say What?

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George, at Leaf's Reviews

Emma and the Banderwigh, by Matthew S. Cox, at Let's Read Till We Drop

The Girl in the Tower, by Lisa Schroeder, at Mom Read It

Grayling's Song, by Karen Cushman, at Barnes and Noble Kids Blog

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, by Maryrose Wood (Book 1--The Mysterious Howling, through Book 5; one post per book, so move up the blog to get them) at Redeemed Reader

The Knights of Crystallia (Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians, Book 3) by Brandon Sanderson, at Skye's Scribblings

The Night Parade, by Kathryne Tanquary, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce & Maggie Stiefvater, at Me On Books

Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George, at Fantasy Literature

Rise of the Ragged Clover, by Paul Durham, at Views From the Tesseract

Seven Wild Sisters, by Charles De Lint, at The Book Wars

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

The Whispers of Wilderwood Hall, Karen McCombie, at So Many Books, So Little Time

Wishing Day, by Lauren Myracle, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Withering by Sea, by Judith Rossell, at Waking Brain Cells

Authors and Interviews

Joshua Kahn (Shadow Magic) at Red House Books

Other Good Stuff

A Tuesday Ten of spec fic with spectacles at Views From the Tesseract

An interview with a young Rick Riordan reader at A Year of Reading

From Tor, where you can see an example of the art:
"The Folio Society is publishing a new edition of Terry Pratchett’s Mort, a classic Discworld tale of Death and his young inept apprentice. For this special edition, award-winning artist Omar Rayyan has provided 7 color illustrations that capture the humor and vibrancy of Pratchett’s remarkable work."


Scarlett: A Star on the Run, by Susan Schade and Jon Buller

Scarlett: A Star on the Run, by Susan Schade and Jon Buller (Papercutz, November 2015), is a graphic novel/text story hybrid of great charm, that I have been meaning to write about for ages (I got a copy at last fall's Kidlitcon down in Baltimore courtesy of the publisher, and enjoyed it very much).

Scarlett is a cat who is a movie star.  Her success on the big screen is not just because she's a good actress, but is the result of experimental animal tinkering.  She and her co-star animals can talk, and think, and be bored by reality tv shows.  They are also prisoners, shut up every night.  But one cold snowy evening a window blows open, and Scarlett heads out to explore for the first time.  Fortunately for Scarlett, before she freezes to death she finds shelter in the cabin of a grumpy old man.   And there she makes a new home for herself.  Soon she's joined by one of her co-stars, a friendly dog, and together they enjoy being just ordinary folks.

But the movie producer, who engineered Scarlett and co., of course wants them back.  And another co-star, the dog who plays the villains in the movies, shows up and makes things unpleasant. And on top of that, the old man falls ill, and it's up to Scarlett to keep up the appearance that everything is just fine in his shack so that no one bothers them.  That means using his credit cards to pay the grocery bills, and Scarlett, being a fastidious cat, takes it upon herself to clean and refurbish the whole house.

But fortunately an ally is close at hand. Erin, the girl next door, has been observing the animals, and figures out their secrets.  She's able to help them find a happy ending, where they no longer are hunted fugitives worried about being dragged back to a movie-production prison....

It's a charming story, and I enjoyed it lots (quite possibly because one of my own favorite things to read about is old houses being cleaned out and fixed up, and seeing a cat and a dog working together to do so was very entertaining).  The art is charming too, as is the relationship that builds between the animals and the grumpy man.

Part of the story is told in graphic novel panels, and a somewhat larger part is straight narrative from Scarlett's point of view.  As a result, I think this is one that would be great for an adult to read alongside an emergent reader child--the child could read the short bits of text in the graphic panels, and the adult could tackle that smaller fonted narration, which is not aimed particularly at young readers.  That makes it also good for middle grade and up readers (especially animal lovers), who enjoy fun graphic heavy stories to read on their own!


Loop, by Karen Akins, for Timeslip Tuesday

Loop, by Karen Akins (St. Martin's Griffin, Oct. 2014), is a fine YA time travel book of the sort where in the future time travel is an organized, government controlled thing.  The heroine, Bree, is at a school for young time travelers, and things are not going well for her.  Her mother, also a time traveler, ended up in a coma after a mission to the past gone wonky, and Bree is desperate to find some way of getting her the best care possible, which means money, which she doesn't have.  Bree is also skating on thin ice academically. 

So things start off bad for Bree, and ever chapter the tension and difficulty of her life grows and grows until I was all like enough already, because it was making me tense.  The difficulties include a boy from the past, Finn, who says that Bree loves him, but not this Bree.  There is a future Bree who knew him a bit before (in his own time), but in a little bit to come (in Bree's time).  So he's all expecting Bree to love him, and she's all, What?  And then of course by the end she does love him (having achieved the future point at which he knew her, when she travelled back to his time). 

And it turns out that future Bree was doing more than just falling in love with a boy from the past.  She was also engaged in a dangerous endeavor to reform the very nature of time travelling in her time, with people working hard to stop her.  And present Bree is desperately trying to figure out just what the heck is happening, before its too late for her mother, for Finn, and for herself.

It was the sort of time travel book where I found myself wishing I had the author on speed dial, so I could check to make sure my fragile understanding of the temporal bouncing back and forth was accurate.  It was also the sort of time travel where the passage between times as an exploration of difference wasn't the point.  The point of the time travel was to set up the heroine vs. those in power thriller plot, and also set up the rather interesting romance of Boy knowing Girl loves him, but Girl not knowing him yet.   So kind of weird relationship-wise, but it works out in the end.  And I wouldn't call the book a romance, because Finn and Bree do fall for each other, but in a context of rather more absorbing events, like foiling nefarious plots and getting Finn back to his own time.

So if you like romantic thriller type time travel with lots of questions that are utterly answered for most of the book, you will like this one lots!  If you are me, you will find it very readable, but you will have to read it in smallish bits because it was not Restful.  I just read the Amazon reviews, and several people found it very funny (Bree as snarky narrator); I guess I was too busy feeling stressed to appreciate that aspect of the book....

hmm.  I also see that there is a sequel, Twist.  I am tempted, although I think I will save it for a time when I have nothing else to worry about.  Possibly the second to last week of August. 


This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (6/5/16)

Welcome to this week's roundup; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Box and the Dragonfly, by Ted Sanders, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Demigod Diaries, by Rick Riodan, at Lunar Rainbows

The Drake Equation, by Bart King, at Charlotte's Library

Escape the Vortex, by Jeanne DuPrau (Voyagers #5) at Say What?

The Eye of the Warlock, by P.W. Catanese, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Grayling's Song,  by Karen Cushman, at Kid Lit Geek, BooksForKidsBlog, Next Best Book, and Mom Read It

The Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan, at Kid Lit Geek

Infinity Riders, by Kekla Magoon (Voyagers #4), at Say What?

Knightley Academy by Violet Haberdasher, at Leaf's Reviews

The League of Seven, by Allan Gratz,  at Say What?

The Ninja Librarians: The Acccidental Keyhand, by Jen Swann Downey, at Reviews With Lilah, and its sequel, Sword in the Stacks, also at Reviews With Lilah

Now You See It… by Vivian Vande Velde, at The Book Wars (with particular attention to elves)

Omega Rising, by Patrick Carman (Voyagers #3), at Say What?

So You Want to be a Wizard (Young Wizards, Book 1) by Diane Duane, at Hidden in Pages

Spaced Out, by Stuart Gibbs, at Charlotte's Library

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown, at Fuse #8

Zaria Fierce and the Dragon Keeper’s Golden Shoes, by Keira Gillett, at Mom Read It

Authors and Interviews

Tracey Hecht (The Nocturnals) at Middle Grade Ninja

Other Good Stuff

The 2016 Mythopoeic Award finalists  have been announced, with a nice Children's Literature section.

And just for kicks, here's a door from Denmark


Spaced Out, by Stuart Gibbs

I very much enjoyed Stuart Gibbs' first Moon Base Alpha book, Space Case, a middle grade murder mystery set in a small moon base, and was happy to find myself enjoying the second, Spaced Out ( Simon & Schuster, April 2016) too; perhaps not quite as much because of it lacking the first fine freshness of the first, but still it provided perfectly adequate reading pleasure.   My thoughts will contain a spoiler for the first book, so don't read anymore if you haven't read Space Case (you can go read my review of it here instead).

So life on Moon Base Alpha continues to be an introvert's nightmare (not a lot of space to get away from it all) with bonus bullies in the form of the two nasty kids of a the rich family of moon tourists.  Spaced Out opens with those two kids attacking the protagonist, Dashiell, who gets the best of them with a clever/desperate counterattack with suction plumbing.  It's no surprise to Dash that the commander of the moon base, Nina, wants to talk to him about this incident (NASA needs the space tourist bucks), but is a surprise when she fails to follow through with his punishment.  And then he finds out he was the last person to see her before she disappeared without a trace.

Nina can't be found anywhere inside the very small, hiding-place free base or on the nearby lunar surface.  Suspicions flair and tempers are strained.  A murder had been committed not long before (the sort of thing that sets peoples nerves on edge), and when evidence incriminating Nina of NASA rule breaking is found, things get even tenser.  Dash once again puts his mind to solving a lunar mystery, and once again he finds his own life is in danger.

And in the meantime, there's a subplot going on involving Dash's communications with an alien emissary, who's learning about humanity from him.  "She" hints at dire things awaiting humanity but is frustratingly unforthcoming about specifics, which adds to Dash's tension....

So it's more of the same sort of story that we had in the first book--a mystery in a closed, confined space with few suspects.  I thought it was a perfectly fine mystery.  But since a lot of the fun of the first book was seeing the moon base and reading the promotional literature from NASA sprinkled into the narrative, this one isn't quite as fun.  I think though that I enjoyed the mystery story of this one more, and am happy to look forward to the next book, since it looks like Dash's adventures are going to really get going!

Dash, like most people on the moon base (the only exceptions being the nasty rich family) is a mixed race kid, so it counts as a diverse read.


Nobody Likes a Goblin, by Ben Hatke

The arrival of a new book by Ben Hatke is always a happy thing in my house.  Even though my boys are several years beyond the ostensible target audience age for picture books, and I am too, we all enthusiastically read his latest offering, Nobody Likes a Goblin (First Second, June 7, 2016), and enjoyed it very much.  There's something just so friendly and pleasing about his art, and when paired with a good story, it's all just as nice a read (and look) as all get out.

A goblin lives a peaceful subterranean life in a dungeon with his best friend, a skeleton, not doing any harm to anyone.  Then adventures invade, in true Adventuring style, and plunder, while the poor goblin hides under his bed. When he emerges he finds all the dungeons' treasure is gone, but much much worse, the adventurers have taken Skeleton too!  So Goblin sets off to find his friend, and to find the "honk honk" stolen from his troll neighbor, despite the troll's warning that "nobody likes a goblin."

And he finds that this is indeed the case.  Chased by a farmer, an innkeeper, a band of elves, and the original adventurers, Goblin finds shelter in a cave, where he finds that there are those who like goblins lots--other goblins! 

And now its the adventurers et al. who are on the run, and Goblin brings all his new friends (including a young woman the adventurers had tied up in their spoil heap) and his old friend Skeleton back to the dungeon for happily ever after.

The goblins are portrayed in  suitably non-human ways, in various permutations of the monstrous, but still manage to have just tons of appeal, some being downright adorable.  The party of adventurers, on the other hand, are pretty much the clichés one expects, and it's nice to see them losing!   It was good to see the young woman who was tied up as part of the loot getting a bit of retaliatory smiting in once the goblins had surged out of their cave to attack.  (The troll's goose gets to attack too, which I also appreciated).

It's a rather inspiring story, not just for the obvious inspiration of finding the courage to save a friend part.  There also the message that even if you feel alone, and people are mean to you for no good reason, there's a good chance that somewhere there's a tribe of friends for you (yay for finding "your people"), and (one can hope) a good chance that the jerks will cease to matter. 

Here's the Kirkus review, in case you want independent confirmation that this is a good book.

disclaimer: review copy gratefully received from the publisher


The Drake Equation, by Bart King

The Drake Equation, by Bart King (Disney-Hyperion, May 10, 2016) is an excellent choice for middle school kids (10-11 year olds in particular) who are still liking their science fiction a tad on the whacky side, but who are well into reading solid stories that offer more than silliness. 

Noah's a bird watcher, a rather lonely hobby for a middle school kid, but one that he's passionate about.   Checking on wood duck nesting boxes in a woods near his home, he finds something much rarer--a family of black swifts.  And even rarer still, he finds a strange device--a sort of swirly-colored round thingy.  When he investigates the device with the help of his two best friends, twins Jason and Jenny, he discovers that it can bestow upon him a range of incredible powers, like shooting freeze rays from his hands.  But there are complications--the menu of the device doesn't come with much in the way of explanations; the kid who's been bullying Noah doesn't appreciate having been basically turned into a sac of protoplasm (even though it was temporary), and Noah, being the trusting sort, perhaps made a mistake in showing the device to his science teacher.  Almost certainly, using it to halt construction on a subdivision threatening the black swifts was the right thing to do, except that it ended up with his parent's getting arrested...

And then Noah finds out who (or possibly what) is on the other end of the device, and why it was created, and learns that the stakes are much higher than just keeping  the device from falling into the wrong hands, or saving the swifts....(here's a hint, without spoiling it too much--the titular Drake Equation, in Noah's mind, refers to wood-duck nesting boxes; for most people, it gives an estimate of the number of extraterrestrial civilizations that might be out there).

I don't know if kids these days ever read Edward Eager (I did, and am a big fan!).  This is a similar sort of story--ordinary kids having their lives thrown into turmoil when they find a magical device (although this story is science fiction with regard to its fundamental premise, the device functions like magic), and having to master the magic, and figure out its rules, while coping with the consequence of things going wrong before they've finished the figuring out.   And then the particular adventure ends, and the magic is put away, but with lots of room left for more to come....

As is the case with Eager's kids, the characters here are interesting, relatable, and well-rounded, with some cute little kids getting involved as well (I think this will appeal to the target audience-- many middle school kids, now they are the big ones, feel a nostalgic fondness for third and fourth graders).  There are plenty of amusing bits, but while it's not a serious, entirely straight-faced story, it never gets farcical. 

Though I enjoyed the book, it didn't quite work perfectly for me; I think the action felt a tad jerky, careening around more than is to my personal taste, especially with regard to the arrival of the big confrontation at the end.   But readers younger than me who like humorous stories about ordinary kids having extraordinary things happen to them will probably find it very much to their taste.

I personally liked very the bird-watchers way in which Noah views the people around him, and I am all in favor of protecting black swift habitat!

For those interested in diversity--Noah's friend Jenny (a strong secondary character) uses a wheelchair (and there are not many wheelchair-using kids in middle grade speculative fiction, especially ones where I don't find things that bother me with regard to "wheel-chair not being an issue" when necessary for the plot.  The only other wheelchair using kid I can think off in a recent MG fantasy got swept over a waterfall and spent the night in a tree, all in his wheelchair.  I spent a lot of time brooding on the waterfall in particular).

Disclaimer:  An ARC of The Drake Equation was originally picked up happily at ALA, then taken from me when my car was stolen (the car came back with the addition of some beer bottles, but minus severall (though by no means all) of the books that were in it, and Bart King generously sent me a copy so I could finish reading it (thanks!).


This week's round-up of midde grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (5/29/16)

As ever, let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

A Most Magical Girl, by Karen Foxlee, at Kid Lit Geek

The Box and the Dragonfly, by Ted Sanders, at Orange Juice Edits

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox, at Log Cabin Library

The City of Gold and Lead, by John Christopher, at Fantasy Literature

The Dragon in the Driveway (Dragon Keepers #2), by Kate Klimo, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

The Dragon Whistler by Kimberly J. Smith, at This Kid Reviews Books

Fortune Falls, by Jenny Goebel, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Girl in the Tower, by Lisa Schroeder, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Leaf's Reviews

The Haunting of Falcon House, by Eugene Yelchin, at Kid Lit Geek

How to Capture an Invisible Cat by Paul Tobin, at Jean Little Library

The Iron Trial, by Holly Black & Cassandra Clare, at Got My Book (audiobook review)

The Legend of Sam Miracle, by N.D. Wilson, at Semicolon

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, by Christopher Edge, at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

The Ministry of Ghosts,  by Alex Shearer, at Charlotte's Library

Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, at Lunar Rainbows

The Secret of Deadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey, at Say What?

Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan, at On Starships and Dragonwings

Some Kind of Happiness, by Claire Legrand, at Ms. Yingling Reads and On Starships and Dragonwings

Wishing Day, by Lauren Myracle, at books4yourkids

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Lucky, by Chris Hill, and The Palace of Glass, by Djano Wexler

Authors and Interviews

Anne Ursu (The Real Boy) at Karen Cushman's blog

A look at the studio of Ursula Vernon at The Children's Book Review

Liesl Shurtliff (Red) at The Book Wars

Darryl Womack (Tales of Westerford: Dragons, Knights and Kings), at The Write Path

Other Good Stuff

The New York Historical Society has given its 2015 Children's History Book Prize to Pam
Muñoz Ryan for Echo (via Fuse #8)


The Ministry of Ghosts, by Alex Shearer

The titular ministry of The Ministry of Ghosts, by Alex Shearer (Sky Pony Press, May 2016;  2014 in the UK), is a dusty old backwater left behind by the forward march of government bureaucracy, and its four (and a cat) employees are utterly and completely failing in their mandate to produce tangible evidence that ghosts are real.  This failure has come to the attention of a government auditor who gives the ministry three months to produce a ghost, or it will be shut down for good.   In desperation, the four ministry workers break out of their hardened ruts of inactivity and hire two local children to be their ghost hunters...and the results are rather more dramatic than they could ever have hoped for!

I mysef liked it just fine, but I think that the person I would most enthusiastically press it on would be a college student who enjoyed MG fantasy a lot back in the day and who is in the middle of exam week and who wants something pleasingly diverting that, though it has interesting twists, is not terribly complicated with regard to fantasy world building and difficult names, and which, although good and interesting and amusing, isn't so rapid in its forward momentum that you have to stay up all night reading it (this is a Bad Thing during exam week!).  It also ends with a Heartwarming tie up of the story line, the sort of ending that is a Comfort in times of Stress.  I think it would be just about perfect for that reader.  It's also a very good one for a grown-up reader of mg fantasy to read in less than ideal circumstances (like in the dentist's office, or other places where you need a book that will hold your interest without making demands).

I am less certain that the target audience of 9-12 year old kids will persevere long enough to get to the actually ghostly adventures.  The development of the story is not typical of today's standard kids starring in fantasy adventure--the first large chunk is a poke at slacker government workers and the keen government inspectors hunting them down.   Generally in MG fantasy, the reader meets the kids in medias res, with the kids battling wolves or being prophesized about or eaten by trolls or all of the above at once, and then the author pulls back from the slavering jaws/bad rhymes and gives us backstory.  Here it is not until page 75 that the Girl Protagonist, Tuppence, appears, and the Boy Protagonist, Tim, arrives in the next chapter.  And although they do go ghost hunting together, it is the sort of ghost hunting where after one failure in a cemetery, the next two and half months pass in a page of nothing happening.

But it is interesting, in its small tasty details of place and character (both of kids and ministry empoyees) and the trail of clues leading to the ghostly extravaganza of the ending was lots of fun to follow!  I'm just not sure young readers will stick with it long enough to appreciate it.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (May 22, 2016)

Welcome to this week's round-up.  Please let me know if I missed your post, and I'll put it in!

The Reviews

Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson, at Geo Librarian

Basil of Baker Street, by Eve Titus, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, by Janet Fox, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Death Weavers (The Five Kingdoms Book 4), by Brandon Mull, at Hidden in Pages

Diary of Anna the Girl Witch: Foundling Witch by Max Candee, at Sharon the Librarian

The Dragon Lantern (League of Seven, 2) by Alan Gratz, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Drake Equation, by Bart King, at This Kid Reviews Books

Everland, by Wendy Spinale, at Cracking the Cover

The Firefly Code, by Megan Frazer Blakemore, at Charlotte's Library

The Foundry's Edge, by Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz, at This Kid Reviews Books

Handbook for Dragon Slayers, by Merrie Haskell, at Pages Unbound

Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X., by Frank Beddor, at Always in the Middle

The Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan, at The Book Smugglers

The Inn Between, by Marina Chohen, at Sharon the Librarian

The Lost Compass, by Joel Ross, at Akossiwa Ketoglo

The Nethergrim, and its sequel, the Skeleth, by Matthew Jobing, at The Reading Nook Reviews

A Plague of Bogles, by Catherine Jinks, at alibrarymama

Red, by Liesl Shurtliff, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Some Kind of Happiness, by Claire Legrand, at Cracking the Cover

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier, at On Starships and Dragonwings and Bibliobrit

The Storyteller, by Aaron Starmer, at Tales of the Marvelous

A Taste for Monsters, by Matthew J. Kirby, at Bibliobrit

The Thickety, and its sequels, by J. A. White, at Abby the Librarian

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown, at Next Best Book

two at Ms. Yingling Reads--The Skeleth, by Matthew Jobin, and  The Ghost Faces, by John Flanagan

Authors and Interviews

Claire Legrand (Some Kind of Happiness) at Teen Librarian Toolbox

Other Good Stuff

A look at tiny fairies (not just a Victorian conceit) at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

A nice list of books for young fairy tale lovers at A Year of Reading

Designing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in pictures, at The Guardian

I don't often post links to YouTube videos, and this is an old one, but this salmon cannon really spoke to me at a deep personal level...."Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Salmon Cannon"


The Firefly Code, by Megan Frazer Blakemore

The Firefly Code, by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Bloomsbury, middle grade, May 2016), is the story of a friendship that shatters one girl's perfect world, forcing her to question everything she's taken for granted about her safe and sheltered life.  Mori and her friends live in a company town, Old Harmonie, where everything is beautifully organized and carefully planned.  The kids themselves are products of that careful planning--they are a mix of genetic engineering and nature, and each kid gets a further brain tweek when they become teenagers, to bring a latent gift to the surface.  All pretty idyllic.

But then a new girl arrives, and Ilana is even more perfect than everyone else.  Almost too perfect....but just right for Mori, who becomes her best friend, straining her old best friendship almost to the breaking point. 

And when Mori and the other kids on Firefly Street start exploring the one non-confirming house in the neighborhood, the abandoned home of one of the company founders, they find out that the utopia in which they live isn't, exactly, all that utopian.  More emotionally important to Mori, she finds out that Ilana, though she seems perfect, might in fact be a lot more flawed than is good for her in this small closed world where perfection is supposed to be achievable.....

So this is one that I would give in a heartbeat to a middle grade girl of ten or eleven who has to read a science fiction book for school, but who prefers middle school girl friendship drama and growing up stories to speculative fiction.  Blakemore does a fine job with this part of her story.  She does a perfectly reasonable job with the sci fi part too....but the problem with being someone who's already read thousands and thousands of speculative fiction books is that I didn't feel there was much that was all that different or excitingly fresh about this scenario (it reminded me quite a bit of Masterminds, for instance).   I'm perfectly willing to concede the point that the target audience members haven't had time yet to read thousands of books, and so it's one that will work lots and lots better for them then it did for me.  I thought it was fine, perfectly solid but not all that exciting; they might well think it's wow!

That being said, the ending opens the way to more story that has the potential to wow even cynical hardened me, and I will eagerly pounce on any sequel that comes along!  And also that being said, I can't think of many other books that do a good job with real-world 12 year old friendship issues in the context of a sci fi dis-utopia, and so this one does offer something fresh in that regard.

Here's the Kirkus review, if you want a second opinion; they call it, and I don't disagree, a "welcome addition to the dystopic utopia genre." 

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher at ALA Midwinter


Cleopatra in Space Book Three: Secret of the Time Tablets, by Mike Maihack

Cleopatra (yes, the original Cleopatra) travelled from Egypt to a far off future in space, where she was greeted by sentient cats, plunged into future-tech military training, and found out she was prophesized to defeat an utterly evil space tyrant warlord, Octavian.  Secret of the Time Tablets (Scholastic, April 2016) the third book in the series, fills in a lot of the story, strengthening the narrative arc.  There's plenty of action-filled adventure (or possibly adventure-filled action), and plenty of difficult choices to be made, and dangers with real consequences to be faced.  Cleo's friends, Antony and Akila, both have nicely satisfying roles to play, and Cleo is just as impetuous and determined as ever.  The story arc of finding the fabled Time Tablets holds things together plot-wise, and the illustrations bring it all to life. 

The time travel aspect is addressed rather more than it was in book 2.  Now that Cleo knows the truth about the prophecy she's supposed to fulfill, and now she's able to use the Tablets to return home, she has to decide where her loyalties lie.....

So basically, lots of fun, with some more serious stuff on the side.

Note on diversity--Cleo is of course North African, although being from the Ptolemaic dynasty, she's on the pale side of dark skin.  Antony, who's clearly a dark-skinned kid, adds diversity, and there is also now a kid with a disability--an arm lost (I think lost, but possibly just damaged horribly badly) during a skirmish and replaced with a high tech prosthetic.

Here's what I'm worried about--now that light has finally dawned in my dim little mind viz Antony and Octavian being characters in the original story of Cleopatra (some of us are slower than others), it's hard to imagine a happy ending...I am imagining Space Asps.  I am also unsure what exactly happened to the character that Octavian zapps near the end of the book, disappearing him with a "blazz" of energy and a "fwish" of dust, and I hope fwishing doesn't have permanent consequences....

Just about any graphic novel reading kid will love these books.  The ones who will really like this series--kids who think cats should be in charge.  There was good cat page-time in this installment!


This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (5/15/16)

Another week, another round-up!  Let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

The Drake Equation, by Bart King, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Firefly Code, by Megan Frazer Blakemore, at Cracking the Cover

Fridays With the Wizards, by Jessica Day George, at Leaf's Reviews

Gorilla Tactics (Dr. Critchlore's School for Minions #2), by Sheila Grau, at Log Cabin Library

The Hidden Oracle, by Rick Riordan, at The Reading Nook Reviews and Book Nut

The Island of Mad Scientists, by Howard Whitehouse, at Jean Little Library

Lockwood and Co., by Jonathan Stroud (series review) at Original Content

Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles #1) by Maria Turtschaninoff, at Of Dragons and Hearts

The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez, by Robin Yardi, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Mysterious Abductions, by Tracey Hecht, at This Kid Reviews Books

Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, at Read Till Dawn

The School For Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at Pages Unbound

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey, at Sharon the Librarian

Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan, at The Book Smugglers

Space Case,by Stuart Gibbs, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

The Toymaker's Apprentice, by  Sherri L. Smith, at Becky's Book Reviews

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, and Rewind to Yesterday, by Susan Beth Pfeffer 

Authors and Interviews

Matthew Jobin (The Nethergrim, and The Skeleth), at A Fantastical Librarian and Middle Grade Ninja

Pseudonymous Bosch, on writing under a pseudonym, at the NY Times

Bart King (The Drake Equation) at From the Mixed-Up Files and My Brain on Books

Martin Stewart (Riverkeep) on how Philip Pullman's Northern Lights changed his life, at The Guardian

Other Good Stuff

The Nebula Award winners have been announced, via Tor

My Brother is a Superhero, by David Walliams, wins the British Book Industry Award

I should have posted this last week; not MG SFF, but of interest to graphic novel readers--First Second organized a Children's Book Week Comics Tour, and here are the stops:

Monday, May 2ndForever YA featuring Gene Luen Yang
Monday, May 2nd  – Read Write Love featuring Lucas Turnbloom
Monday, May 2ndKid Lit Frenzy featuring Kory Merritt
Tuesday, May 3rdSharp Read featuring Ryan North
Tuesday, May 3rdTeen Lit Rocks featuring MK Reed
Wednesday, May 4thLove is Not a Triangle featuring Chris Schweizer
Wednesday, May 4thSLJ Good Comics for Kids featuring Victoria Jamieson
Thursday, May 5thThe Book Wars featuring Judd Winick
Thursday, May 5thSLJ Fuse #8 featuring Eric Colossal
Friday, May 6thSLJ Scope Notes featuring Nathan Hale
Friday, May 6thThe Book Rat featuring Faith Erin Hicks
Saturday, May 7thYA Bibliophile featuring Mike Maihack
Saturday, May 7thSupernatural Snark featuring Sam Bosma
Sunday, May 8thCharlotte’s Library featuring Maris Wicks
Sunday, May 8thThe Roarbots featuring Raina Telgemeier


Armchair BEA Day 1--introductions

Armchair BEA
I'm Charlotte, and I've been blogging for nine years.  I now blog for the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog as well as here at my own place.  This is my second  time taking part in Armchair Book Expo America, I think. It is a good thing as I have a few books left from last years BEA still to be read (hangs head in shame).  My goal this summer is to really get on top of my tbr pile so that I can be truly wholeheartedly excited again about all the books (that being said, I still manage bravely to get more than a bit of a frisson from many of the books that come my way...Raven King, I'm looking at you, for instance....).

I mostly blog about middle grade and YA fantasy and science fiction, with a tilt towards middle grade (because I find that middle grade tends to move along with the story more quickly, without getting bogged down in turgid romance, and the middle grade protagonists are more believable and make fewer annoying choices....).  That being said, many of my favorite books are YA (or at least shelved in the YA section), like Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia series (my favorite being King of Attolia).

I have being doing most of my reading on the bus this week, because my car was stolen over the weekend, and though the car was found, Toyota is struggling to get a new key made for it (thoughtlessly, the perps didn't leave the keys in the car.  I guess they are more aware of the need for security than I am....).  Vexingly, the book I was in the middle of reading (The Drake Equation, by Bart King) was in the car too, and they didn't leave that either.  They also took a small stuffed mountain goat, but that was on its way to Salvation Army, so no loss.

So anyway, Armchair BEA is a nice distraction and I look forward to meeting new bloggers!


The Children's Book Week Comics Blog Tour featuring Maris Wicks

The folks at First Second Books have organized an extravaganza of comic book goodness to celebrate Children's Book Week, and it's my pleasure to take part.

So here's Hippopotamister author John Patrick Green, interviewing Maris Wicks, author and illustrator most recently of Science Comics: Coral Reefs

How did you get into comics? What were some of your favorite books or influences as a child?

As a kid, I always liked the funny pages in the newspaper (Gary Larson’s Farside, Garfield, Peanuts) as well as animated cartoons (Masters of the Universe, Batman: The Animated Series, anything Nickelodeon/Disney from the early 90’s). I loved illustrated children’s books too; my mom is a huge fan of Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, and Shel Silverstein, so those were influences as well.  I think the first comic book that got me hooked on comics was Milk & Cheese by Evan Dorkin (which is faaaaar from kid-friendly); I picked it up from a comic store in Vermont when I was in 8th grade.  From there, I discovered many other independent comics. By the time I was in college, I was reading any comics I could get my hands on - anything from superheroes to historical comics (my college library had a great selection).

• From Primates, to Human Body Theater, to Coral Reefs, science seems to be a recurring theme in your work. What's the next scientific topic you're going to tackle? Are there any non-science-related topics, or perhaps even a fictional story you'd like to turn into a graphic novel? Perhaps even something science-fictional?

I’m glad that it’s obvious that I love science! Science had been one of my favorite subjects in school. When I decided to go to college for art, I felt like I was abandoning science. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Science and scientific themes were present in most of my projects in college, and that continued into my professional work. My next big book project is a guide to general science: physics, chemistry, biology, math, engineering…all in comics form! There are a few “back-burner” projects that I’ve had in mind that aren’t science-themed (like an autobiographical comic, and some ideas for illustrated kids books).  When I read for fun, I tend to read science fiction. I would like to write/draw something sci-fi someday, or even adapt a book/story that already exists into comics form.  

• What's your favorite part about comics, both as a reader and a creator?

The comic book format is just how I see the world.  I’ve always had an overactive imagination…and thinking of the world in a more cartoony way helps to keep me positive and not too serious. For me, it just makes sense as a way for me to tell (and read) stories.

• What is your process like? With the added requirement of scientific accuracy, how much research goes into it?

When I start a new book, I like to bury myself in research. And not just book research! Any experience that can help me to tell the story is fair game: I trained as an EMT 10 years before I started writing Human Body Theater came, I got scuba-certified to see coral reefs in real life for Coral Reefs! For Primates, the closest I could get to seeing any non-human primates was the zoo, so I went and drew gorillas! I’ve always learned best when I can have a real hands-on experience.

• For many people, drawing is considered a hobby. Is being an artist still a hobby for you, or is it like a job? If drawing is your job, what then are your hobbies?

For me, drawing is both a job and a hobby. I see my comic book and illustration work as my “job” (even though it is fun), and I keep a sketchbook for my more personal drawings (they’re usually silly, but they are just for me; it’s nice to draw just for myself). My other hobbies include hiking, baking, swimming, photography, and reading.

• What's currently on your nightstand?

Oh boy. I have a lot of books waiting to be read. I’ve been reading Randall Munroe’s “Thing Explainer” in bits and pieces; it’s pretty amazing (and inspiring me for my next project)!  In addition to that, I’ve got Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” on my nightstand.  I’ve never read either of them, and I think that it’s about time!

Thank you both for the great interview!  Here are the other stops in the Children's Book Week Comics Tour:

Monday, May 2ndForever YA featuring Gene Luen Yang
Monday, May 2nd  – Read Write Love featuring Lucas Turnbloom
Monday, May 2ndKid Lit Frenzy featuring Kory Merritt
Tuesday, May 3rdSharp Read featuring Ryan North
Tuesday, May 3rdTeen Lit Rocks featuring MK Reed
Wednesday, May 4thLove is Not a Triangle featuring Chris Schweizer
Wednesday, May 4thSLJ Good Comics for Kids featuring Victoria Jamieson
Thursday, May 5thThe Book Wars featuring Judd Winick
Thursday, May 5thSLJ Fuse #8 featuring Eric Colossal
Friday, May 6thSLJ Scope Notes featuring Nathan Hale
Friday, May 6thThe Book Rat featuring Faith Erin Hicks
Saturday, May 7thYA Bibliophile featuring Mike Maihack
Saturday, May 7thSupernatural Snark featuring Sam Bosma
Sunday, May 8thCharlotte’s Library featuring Maris Wicks
Sunday, May 8thThe Roarbots featuring Raina Telgemeier

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