Six traditional fairy tales from Scotland. . .The Page Boy and the Silver Goblet, The Wee Bannock, Peerifool, The Brownie o’ Ferne-Den, The Good Housewife and Her Night Labors, and Assipattle and the Giant Sea Serpent.
I really enjoy Matt Phelan’s books. I think they are wonderful slices of life. I appreciate the minimal text and lovely illustrations. Bluffton is the story of Henry and his summers spent with Buster Keaton. It seems Keaton and other vaudeville acts summer at Bluffton and fictional Henry was able to get to know them a bit. Henry wasn’t happy working in his dad’s store and really wanted to do more with his life. Unfortunately, Buster never shows him any tricks and just wants to hang out and play baseball. The book takes place over several years as Buster and family returns to Bluffton each summer. While I enjoyed this book, I am not sure it will find a wide audience with kids. I would guess very few kids have heard of or know of Buster Keaton or even vaudeville. Also, they might not be interested in a book that really doesn’t have a lot to say or a very exciting story. This is a sleepy little book that is a fast read and great for fans of Phelan. But we don’t really learn a whole lot about the historical characters and I am not sure we learn enough about Henry to really care that much. Beautiful as always with a Matt Phelan book, but limited appeal.
Ephraim’s father has had a stroke and his mom decides to move the family to Maine to help in his recovery. They move into the old family house,
The Water Castle. The house isn’t like a normal house, it is full of strange rooms that seem impossible and secret tunnels. The Appledore family has lived in the Water Castle for generations. They came to Crystal Springs, ME to find the Fountain of Youth and built a hotel and spa and water bottling operation on the spot.
Ephraim meets two kids at school who seem to know more about his family history than he does. Will Wylie’s family has always hated the Appledores. They were hunting for the Fountain of Youth too and planned on selling the water. The Appledores beat them too it and they have been bitter ever since. Mallory is a member of the Darling family. The Darlings have worked for the Appledore’s forever and her father is the current caretaker. Ephraim, Will and Mallory start out as enemies, but soon come together to work on a school project and to find the truth about the water of Crystal Springs.
Interspersed throughout the book are journal entries of Nora Darling. She worked for Dr. Appledore in 1909 and the journal details their quest to find the water and her hopes of becoming an explorer someday. Of course there are Appledores and Wylies at that time as well and the entries show that things haven’t changed all that much in 100 years.
This book is a little hard to classify. The Fountain of Youth storyline makes it a little more science fiction, but those elements are not treated in a fantastical way. Blakemore really tries to make this more realistic than anything else with historical elements thrown in. I like the ambiguity of the genre. I thought the kids quest for the truth about the water was a really good mystery. I do wish there weren’t quite so many threads left hanging at the end though. We don’t know who really set the fire that burned down the bottling plant and hotel in 1909. We don’t know if the water actually gives the drinker immortality. We don’t know if Ephraim’s dad is really going to recover. We also are left wondering about Mallory’s mom and if she is who it is implied she is.
Arthur Whipple doesn’t fit in his family. Everyone else has the same birthday and breaks world records every day. Arthur was born a day early and has failed at every record he has attempted to break. Even the people who work for the Whipples are record holders. Arthur tries everything to make his family see and appreciate him but they never do. Then a mysterious dwarf and giant ruin the big birthday bash and a family from Mr. Whipple’s past comes back and beats the Whipples at everything. The family cook is blamed for all their troubles, but Arthur knows he isn’t the real culprit. He has to find out who is behind everything and convince the others of the truth.
Ugh! I almost didn’t get through this one. It had so much going for it, but really didn’t live up to its potential. For one thing it was WAY too long. 400 pages is a lot of story especially for a book as convoluted as this one. The world record stuff was interesting at first, but quickly became a crutch for the story. It was way too unbelievable and clunky a device. The last thing that really bothered me was the fact that there wasn’t really any conclusion or moral or lesson to be learned from this book. We don’t know who ruined the birthday party; we don’t know who really hired the dwarf and giant; we don’t know why the cook was blamed; we don’t know what is up with the Goldwins; and Arthur’s family never appreciates him. I really wanted more from this book and didn’t get it.
EllRay has to deal with bullies and skateboarding and friends trying new things in this book. EllRay really wants to learn to skateboard and thinks his cool, older neighbor Henry is just the one to teach him. Trouble maker and cool guy Fly is always hanging out at Henry’s and he doesn’t want little kids around. He is a bully and puts Alfie’s life in danger. EllRay is also dealing with one of his friends making friends with the kid who bullies him. On top of everything else EllRay has to compare himself to a fairytale for a class project.
This series is a good one for beginning readers. It deals with real issues that kids deal with. I like the fact that there is a lot going on in EllRay’s life; it makes him seem more real.
On a desperate journey, two runaways meet and join forces. Though they are only looking to escape their harsh and narrow lives, they soon find themselves at the center of a terrible battle. It is a battle that will decide their fate and the fate of Narnia itself.
The Horse and His Boy is the third book in C. S. Lewis’s classic fantasy series, which has captivated readers of all ages with magical lands and unforgettable characters for over sixty years. This is a novel that stands on its own, but if you would like to journey back to Narnia, read Prince Caspian, the fourth book in The Chronicles of Narnia.
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life… until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
In 1881, 12-year-old Rodzina Clara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski wishes she didn’t have to board the orphan train in Chicago. But she has no home, no family, and no choice. Rodzina doesn’t believe the orphans are on their way out West to be adopted by good families. She’s sure they will become slaves to strangers. Anyway, who would ever adopt a large, tough, stubborn girl of Polish origin? As the train heads west, all Rodzina has is a small suitcase and her family memories from the past. Will Rodzina ever step off the train to find the family that deep in her heart she’s searching for?
“I’m obsessed with abandoned things.” Siena’s obsession began a year and a half ago, around the time her two-year-old brother Lucca stopped talking. Now Mom and Dad are moving the family from Brooklyn to Maine hoping that it will mean a whole new start for Lucca and Siena. She soon realizes that their wonderful old house on the beach holds secrets. When Siena writes in her diary with an old pen she found in her closet, the pen writes its own story, of Sarah and Joshua, a brother and sister who lived in the same house during World War II. As the two stories unfold, amazing parallels begin to appear, and Siena senses that Sarah and Joshua’s story might contain the key to unlocking Lucca’s voice.
On the day Cassie was born, they drowned her town. The mayor flipped a lever and everyone cheered as Old Lower Grange was submerged beneath five thousand swimming pools’ worth of water. Now, twelve years later, Cassie feels drawn to the manmade lake and the mysteries it hides — and she’s not the only one. Her classmate Liam, who wears oversized swim trunks to cover the scars on his legs, joins Cassie in her daily swims across the off-limits side of the lake. As the summer heats up, the water drops lower and lower, offering them glimpses of the ghostly town and uncovering secrets one prominent town figure seems anxious to keep submerged. But like a swimmer who ventures too far from shore, Cassie realizes she can’t turn back. Can she bring their suspicions to light before it’s too late — and does she dare?
EllRay Jakes’s little sister Alfie has a problem. Suzette Monahan has been mean to Alfie and causing all the other girls to be mean as well. EllRay tries to get Alfie to stand up for herself, but that doesn’t work. So he decides to take matter into his own hands and teach bully Suzette a lesson. This is a pretty decent beginning chapter book about bullying. It shows both sides of the issue with Suzette’s bullying of Alfie and EllRay’s bullying of Suzette. There are also some other instances of kids picking on others which could also be construed as bullying. I liked the fact that EllRay and his family are African American since there aren’t a lot of beginning chapter books featuring non-white characters. I think it is important to show diversity in books so kids can identify with the characters they are reading about.
Jinx goes to live with Wizard Simon after his stepfather tries to leave him in the Urwald. The Urwald is a forest filled with clearings where people live, the path that you must not stray from, and lots of forest filled with trolls and werewolves and witches and wizards. Even though Simon is a wizard, Jinx has plenty to eat and Simon takes care of him, he is even teaching him about magic. Jinx has magic of his own; he can see the emotions of others and hear the trees of the Urwald. Then one day Simon goes too far and does a spell that takes away Jinx’s magic. Jinx leaves Simon and wonders into the Urwald where he finds two other children with curses of their own. Reven can’t tell you anything about himself that would reveal who he really is. Elfwyn can’t tell a lie; if you ask her a question she must speak the truth. Together they set out across the Urwald and stumble upon the Bonemaster, an evil wizard who keeps them prisoner. They must figure out how to escape from him and to take away his source of power.
Jinx is one of the better middle grade fantasy novels I have read in a while. It takes parts of legends and fairytales and weaves it all together into a new story about a different land. What I enjoyed most was that it doesn’t explain everything or solve every problem. This leaves it open for more books in the series, but it in no way diminishes this story. It is creative and imaginative and just plain fun to read. More than anything this is a story about coming to terms with who you are and what you are or aren’t willing to do. It is a story about family and friendship and the magic that connects us.
It is 1871 and the year the pigeons came to town. They descend on Placid and nest nearby. It is also the year that Georgie’s sister Agatha disappears. The sheriff brings back a body wearing Agatha’s dress, but Georgie is positive it isn’t Agatha. She sets off on a quest to learn the truth. Billy, Agatha’s beau, goes with her. Together they travel the same path as Agatha and try to discover what happened to her. There are cougars and counterfeiters and kidnappers along the way, but they do eventually learn some if not all of Agatha’s story before they return to Placid.
Georgie is an outstanding narrator. She is sure of herself and her abilities even though she is just a little girl. I like the fact that she ends up saving the day and Billy and solving most of the mystery. I am not sure how much appeal this will have to kids as it did get a little bogged down. The kids reading this might appreciate the ending and how everything was neatly tied up, but I thought it was a little too neat. Everything gets explained and Agatha’s story is brought to light, but I think it would have been better to leave a bit of mystery. I didn’t buy that Georgie would never shoot a gun again even though she is a sharpshooter. I thought that was out of character and didn’t make a lot of since. I got a little bored with all the information on the pigeons, but it is a fascinating part of our history so I appreciated the information.
2014 Newbery Honor Book.
Flora is a pig ready for adventure. As a little piglet in her pen she was always looking outside and trying new things. More than anything she wants to pull a sled. She idolizes the sled dogs she sees training on the farm. One day she sees her chance and gets taken to a ship. She thinks her time is now; she will finally get to have the adventure she has always wanted. Unfortunately, she soon finds out she is on the ship for a completely different reason. Then the ship hits an iceberg and sinks and now Flora, the captain and crew, the surviving sled dogs and one adventurous cat are stranded in the Arctic. Flora has to prove she is more than food if they are all going to survive.
This book reminded me a little bit of Charlotte’s Web. It is a fun adventure story with a pig lead. I like the fact that Flora has to prove her worth, but she is always confident in herself and her abilities. There are some good messages in here about being yourself and living up to your potential and doing things even when others say you can’t.
“M is for magic. All the letters are, if you put them together properly.” This tasty tidbit is from Neil Gaiman’s introduction to the book, and wonderfully sums up my view of most of his writing. He has a way of stringing letters together which makes the mundane magical, or at the least, a bit odd. I like a bit odd, and so enjoyed this collection of short stories. It also was interesting to compare stories written earlier in his career to more recent ones, both of which are in this collection. I had read a couple of these tales before, and one in particular (The Witch’s Headstone) became a chapter in Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery winner, The Graveyard Book. Short stories are a great introduction to an author, and so if you are one of the five people not familiar with Neil Gaiman, this collection is a decent place to start. Although it is a collection intended for younger readers, the content is pretty mature, including older cultural references I doubt young readers will understand.
Ben is being forced to spend the summer with his grandpa in Buttonville. Buttonville is a dying town since the button factory closed. Ben is positive this is going to be a horrible summer spent with his grandpa at the senior center then he sees a giant bird, as big as a helicopter, flying over the town. Pearl Petal, known troublemaker, saw it too and is convinced it landed at the old button factory. Ben isn’t so sure about Pearl’s ideas until his grandpa’s cat deposits a bat on his bed. Turns out it isn’t a bat but a baby dragon. They head off to the button factory to discover what is going on in Dr. Woo’s Worm Hospital. Then the sasquatch escapes and Pearl and Ben are tasked with capturing it and returning it to the Imaginary Lands. Chaos ensues.
I really enjoy fantasy that takes place in the normal world. You don’t have to build a whole new world you just use ours and tack on an Imaginary Land where things like dragons and sasquatch and fairies live and occasionally visit our world. This book is a fun adventure that I am sure kids will enjoy. I loved the humor and the illustrations. And of course there is pudding…who can resist pudding?
This is the story of William Shackley, son of Rodric who is off on crusade with King Richard. Geoff Shackley is regent for his nephew Will. Will is a boy on the cusp of manhood who is not really sure how to make the leap. Circumstance force him to grow up however when Sir Guy of Gisborne comes to the castle and forces a fight that leads to Geoff’s death. Will and his mother escape but become separated. Will finds himself a hostage of the Merry Men led by Gilbert. Of course there are other Merry Men: Rob the drunk with a secret in his past, John Little the bear of a man who is also a good friend, Much the Miller’s son who is actually Much the Miller’s daughter, treacherous Stout and others. Will convinces the group to raid Shackley Castle for its treasure which sets off events beyond their control.
Matthew Cody explains in the author’s note that there are many variations on the legend of Robin Hood. Sure he took some liberties with the story but the basics are here and they work. I really enjoyed the fact that the story was told from Will Scarlet’s point of view instead of Rob’s. This is really Will’s story and the group becoming the Merry Men of legend is just part of that story. Will has to grow up and realize his past life is in the past; there is no way to get back what he has lost. He has to move on and create a new life. A life with Rob and the Merry Men in Sherwood Forest, robbing the rich to help the poor.
Lucy’s dream summer is not turning out the way she planned. Her sister Claudia is back from college, but instead of spending all summer sharing secrets by the pool Claudia is hanging out with her boyfriend Bean. Lucy’s best friend Sunny is wrapped up in her boyfriend Eric and the boy Lucy likes is giving her mixed signals. Lucy thought she would be helping turn the Pink and Green Spa into a reality, but feels pushed out by all the adults working on the project. To make things even worse she is stuck with Bevin, who is embarrassing and hangs around Lucy all the time. Can Lucy turn things around?
This is the sequel to My Life in Pink and Green and picks up shortly after the ending of that book. The spa is becoming a reality and Lucy is still trying to make things happen. She has a lot going on in this book and learns some lessons about herself and those around her. Lucy definitely grows up a bit in this book. I enjoyed the first book and I enjoyed this one as well. I think this is a good series for girls. The situations are all pretty realistic and there is also information about green initiatives.
Four adventurous siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie—step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.
Journey into the land beyond the wardrobe! The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the second book in C. S. Lewis’s classic fantasy series, which has been captivating readers of all ages for over sixty years. This is a stand-alone novel, but if you would like journey back to Narnia, read The Horse and His Boy, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia.
Edgar and Allan Poe are identical twins. They are so identical that no one can tell them apart, not even Edgar and Allan. Same boy, different identity; same identity, different boy. Edgar Allan Poe was their great, great, great, great uncle and they share many of his interests. They love spooky tales of horror and are generally smarter than everyone else. Turns out their identicalness has made them a target of a mad scientist who wants to study them. They are lured to Kansas by Professor Marvel and must figure out what is going on before it is too late. They have a little help from their great, great uncle in the great beyond. Things don’t turn out quite how you expect.
This is a fun tale. I really liked the inclusion of Edgar Allan Poe and his attempts to help the twins. Edgar and Allan are genius and inventive, which makes for excellent storytelling. I think kids will enjoy the mystery and the humor.