11/23/20

On These Magic Shores, by Yamile Saied Méndez

On These Magic Shores, by Yamile Saied Méndez (middle grade, Tu Books, June 2020), blends real world problems and fairy magic to create a compelling story of a 12-year-old girl doing the best she can to keep her family together.

Minerva (in her mind, and at school she's Minnie) might be in 7th grade, but she has her long range plan in place--get the part of Wendy in the school's yearly production of Peter Pan, use that as a springboard to leadership at school, and from there on up to becoming the first Latina president of the United States. In the short-term, her primary responsibility is looking after her two little sisters while their mother, an Argentinian American, works two jobs. Money is tight, and their basement apartment is unlovely, but the family is managing.

Then the night before Minnie's audition, Mamá doesn't come home, and Minnie is overwhelmed by worry for her, and for herself and her sisters. Will the girls be sent to separate foster homes? Minnie can't leave her much younger sisters home alone, but she can't stand to miss the audition. So she brings her sisters, and it goes badly.

Then comes a week of trying to pretend everything is normal, though Minnie has a hard job of it--a 12- year-old can't go to school and look after kids at the same time, and without Mamá, what will they eat? And how can Minnie come up with the $50 audition fee for the play? (aside--do public schools really charge that much for kids to be in the play? This surprised me lots).

But Minnie and her sisters aren't exactly alone. Their mother has filled their ears from babyhood with stories of the fairies who came first from Europe to Argentina, and then from Argentina to the United States. Her little sisters believe, and insist on leaving saucers of milk for them. Minnie's a skeptic. But when little bits of glittery luck start coming her way, the evidence becomes undeniable that there's magic at work.

And with the help from magic, and with a new friend, a quirky kid named Maverick and his wealthy family, and with some help from their landlord, who is kinder than Minnie had thought, things are held together. But Mamá is still missing, and Minnie decides to take action, contacting the grandmother in Argentina she's never met. The grandmother had had a premonition she'd be needed (possibly thanks to the magic), and is able to come to the US. And Mamá comes home from the hospital.

With huge relief, Minnie is able to shed her responsibilities, and her Mamá, still gravely ill, is able to as well, now her own mother is there. And Minnie now believes in fairies just as much as her little sisters do.

In the meantime, there's the play--Minnie isn't cast as Wendy, but as Tiger Lily (because of her brown skin, she wonders?) and she puts her foot down about the racism of the story, refusing to take the part. She's able to convince the school to tweak the play, finds another girl, a newly arrived immigrant, to take the part of Lily, a leader of Amazons. There are many other bits that speak to the experience of being a browned skinned, Spanish-speaking, child of immigrants in the story, including a nasty run-in with a racially profiling cop, that make the story relevant to the real world.

This is a great one for readers who are fascinated by stories of kids coping on their own without grownups! It's believable and scary, but the magic of the fairies leavens the darkness with its subtle sprinkles of gold, and the ending is warm and comforting. Because the magic is so subtle, this is also a great one for the fan of realistic fiction who has to read a fantasy book for school!

I personally enjoyed it lots, though I wasn't certain at first; Minnie starts of as a rather unsympathetic character, but as the story unfolds she grew on me lots. And I loved the magic, and didn't even mind that there was no big reveal of fairies (it stays subtle, but undeniable, till the end).  I hadn't heard about this one until it was nominated for the Cybils Awards, and I'm glad it was so that I was compelled to read it!









11/22/20

This week's roundup of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (11/22/20)

Hi all, here's what I found this week.  Please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

The Boy, the Wolf and the Stars, by Shivaun Plozza, at The Book Dutchess

Carnival Catastrophe (The Problim Children #2), by Natalie Lloyd, at Say What?

The Clockwork Ghost, by Laura Ruby, at Leaf's Reviews

Curse of the Night Witch, by Alex Aster, at Geo Librarian 

The Endangereds, by Philippe Cousteau & Austin Aslan, at Mom Read It

Finn and the Intergalactic Lunchbox, by Michael Buckley, at Jean Little Library

Freya and Zoose, by Emily Butler, at Log Cabin Library

The Ghost of Gosswater, by Lucy Strange, at Magic Fiction Since Potter 

The Gryphon's Lair, by Kelley Armstrong, at Puss Reboots 

Kenny & the Beast of Books (The Tales of Kenny Rabbit # 2), by Tony DiTerlizzi, at Kids Lit Review

The Lost Girl, by Anne Ursu, at Falling Letters

The Midnight Hour, by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder, at Charlotte's Library

Sky Song, by Abi Elphinstone, at The Bookwyrm's Den

The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay, at alibrarymama

Five at Feed Your Fiction Addiction--Kiki's Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono, Embassy of the Dead by Will Mabbitt, The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas, Middle School Bites by Steven Banks, and Into the Tall, Tall Grass by Loriel Ryon

Three at Evelyn Reads--Hollowpox (Nevermoor #3), by Jessica Townsend, Nightfall (Keeper of Lost Cities #6), by Shannon Messenger, and Cogheart (The Cogheart Adventures #1), by Peter Bunzl.

Four at thebookactivist--The Ten Riddles of Eartha Quicksmith by Loris Owen, The Griffin Gate by Vashti Hardy, The Thing in Black Hole Lake by Dashe Roberts, and My Life As A Cat by Carlie Sorosiak

Authors and Interviews

Summer Rachel Short (The Mutant Mushroom Takeover), at Literary Rambles

Ash Van Otterloo (Cattywampus) at Cynthia Leitich Smith

Other Good Stuff

At Tor, "The Horse and Her Girl"--a look at C.S. Lewis and Aravis

and just for the heck of it, some exciting dinosaur news--World’s first 100% complete T-rex skeleton found locked in battle with a Triceratops

11/20/20

Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries, by Sarah Albee


As far as I know, I'm the only professional archaeologists who has a children's book blog. So I was delighted when I was offered a review copy of Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries, by Sarah Albee, illustrated by Nathan Hackett (Scholastic Nonfiction, November 10th 2020). I enjoyed the reading of it very much, and learned lots I didn't know, and I think it's a great one to offer the 10-12 year old who has an interest in archaeology.


The book is self-described as a collection of "chance discoveries by ordinary people" that contributed to our understanding of the past. Arranged in chronological order of the discoveries (which has the added bonus of seeing how archaeology has changed over time), these chance finds from around the world are indeed extraordinary, marvelous, discoveries. Included are some that will be familiar to many kids in the US, like Pompeii and Herculaneum, and some that will quite possibly be new, like an Aztec temple in Mexico City, and a South African cave full of the fossils of a previously unknown early human species. They really are all tremendously exiting finds from around the world!

Albee does a truly great job providing historical context for many of the finds (along the way, for instance, you'll learn lots about the history of Thailand, and slavery in New York), and in some cases, the discoverers are brought to life too--like the black cowboy who found the first huge bison kill site in the US--which adds human interest. Lots of vintage illustrations, maps, and sidebars give even more substance to the already rich descriptions of each discovery. The accessible, almost conversational style of the stories allows Albee to include past injustices, misconceptions, and mistakes in a way that's thought provoking without being preachy.

In short, reading books like this is a great way to learn, and there's lots to learn here, not dumbed down at all, and so much more fun than reading books written for grown-ups!

(I only have one professional quibble--one of the discoveries wasn't accidental at all, but the result of cultural resource buraucracy working like it's supposed to. The discovery of New York's African American cemetery occured not by chance, but becuase the laws protecting historic sites worked--a regulatory archaeologist (like me!) reviewed the project, and called for an archaeological survey. And so, though it's a great story, it doesn't really belong in the book....and I wish Albee had used this story to hammered home a little harder than she does the point that many important discoveries are made becuase people know what they are doing and are trained professionals! In fairness, she does make the point clear that the finding of neat things is only the first step, and doesn't get you far without the professionals to do the analysis and conservation....)


11/17/20

The Midnight Hour, by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder, for Timeslip Tuesday


The Midnight Hour, by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder (middle grade, Chicken House, March 2020), isn't a typical time travel story.  But a bit of magical time twisting is central to the world building, and so I shall count it as time slip.

After her mother leaves home ostensibly for family reasons (surprising Emily, who's never met any of that family), and doesn't come back, her father leaves Emily alone while he goes to look for her.  With just a rescued hedgehog for company for the next few days, Emily gets increasingly anxious, and at last decides to go to the post office where her father works the night shift, to see if she can find any word of what's become of her parents.

But he is no ordinary postman, and it is no ordinary post office.  Instead, it is the Night Post, a way through to the Midnight Hour--a bit of Victorian London  frozen in time and cut off from reality to make a protective home for magical beings.  Visitors from the day-time world are not welcome there, and on top of her anxiety about her parents, Emily must face annoyed authorities.  But that's not the worst of her problems.  On the streets of the Midnight Hour, full of marvels and monsters, she is hunted by a malevolent bear person....

….who turns out to be working for someone more powerful and frightening still.  A being who needs something Emily has in order to break the confining magic of the Midnight Hour.  

Emily's situation is fairly awful; the mix of Victorian urban life with monsters and magic is dizzying, and she and her parents are in real danger.  For most of the book she doesn't even have any allies to buttress her, save for her loyal hedgehog.  Fortunately, she's a quick learner.  When she's about to give into despair, she has the intelligence to think of exactly the right way to use the rules of the Night Post, and it works like a charm.  After seeing Emily muddling through somewhat passively for much of the book, it was great to see her using her brains to gain control of the situation!  It was also lots of fun to see the secrets of her family gradually revealed.

If you think it would be fun to visit a Victorian London full of monsters, you'll love Emily's adventures.  I myself am not all that fond of confusing monster-filled alternate worlds in general, but Emily's cleverness and snarkiness won me over enough that I'll read the next book of her adventures with pleasure!  

11/15/20

The week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from aroung the blogs (11/15/20)

Hi all!  Here's what I found this week; enjoy!  (and please let me know if I missed your post)

The Reviews

The Candy Mafia, by Lavie Tidhar, illustrated by Daniel Duncan, at Kids Lit Review

The Creature Keeper, by Damaris Young, at bookloverjo

Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch, by Julie Abe, at Geo Librarian 

A Game of Fox and Squirels, by Jenn Reese, at Heavy Medal

Harding's Luck, by E. Nesbit, a post by Delia Sherman at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Hatch, by Kenneth Oppel, at Fantasy Literature

Hide and Seeker, by Daka Hermon, at Geo Librarian

How to Save the Universe (Dimension Why #1), by John Cusick, at Ms. Yingling Reads 

In the Red, by Christopher Swiedler, at Say What?

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by Kelly Pousette, at Randomly Reading

Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at Children's Books Heal

Maya and the Rising Dark, by Rena Barron, at The Caffinated Reader

Night of the Living Ted, by Barry Hutchison, illustrated by Lee Cosgrove, at Jean Little Library

Rival Magic, by Deva Fagan, at Geo Librarian 

Scritch Scratch, by Lindsay Currie, at Say What?

Toro, by Andrew Avner, at Log Cabin Library  

The Undrowned,  by K.R. Alexander, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel, by Sheela Chari, at Mom Read It

Wishes and Wellingtons, by Julie Berry, at Charlotte's Library

The Wizards of Once, by Cressida Cowell, at Fantasy Literature

Two books starring apprentice witches at alibrarymama-Kiki’s Delivery Service, by Eiko Kadono, and Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch, by Julie Abe 

Three "stunning sequels" at A little but a lot - Tilly and the Map of Stories, by  Anna James, Frostheart 2: Escape from Aurora, by Jamie Littler, and The Midnight Howl, by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder

Four at Feed Your Fiction Addiction-Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, by Tehlor Kay Mejia, Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, The Copycat by Wendy McLeod MacKnight, and Shuri: A Black Panther Novel by Nic Stone

Author and Interviews  

Katharine Orton (Glassheart), at A little but a lot,  and Library Girl and Book Boy

Sofiya Pasternak (Anya and the Nightingale), at The Book of Life podcast



11/12/20

Wishes and Wellingtons, by Julie Berry

Wishes and Wellingtons, by Julie Berry (Sourcebooks, October 2020, first published as an Audible Original in 2018), is a middle grade fantasy in the tradition of E. Nesbit that will delight anyone who loves reading about feisty girls finding magic and struggling to control it!

Maeve wants to be a world-famous cricket player, or perhaps an explorer, or both, but Victorian England isn't offering her many opportunities for either.  For the moment she stuck at a boarding school for "Upright Young Ladies," and when the book begins, she's being made to sort through the trash as punishment for her latest transgression against the rules of upright young lady-ship.  

But fortune smiles on her (perhaps) when she finds a sardine tin in which a djinni has been trapped.  The power of magical wishes is hers...but she only has three of them, and the djinni isn't going to help her make the best use of them.  On the contrary...

Though Maeve wastes her first wish on a silly bit of revenge against another girl, she is fortunate to have two more level headed allies--an orphan boy from the adjacent charitable home (who hopes to get his own chance with the sardine tin), and her best friend Alice, a girl from a wealthy family who's quieter personality makes her good foil for Maeve.

The three of them use Maeve's second wish to take them on an adventure in search of treasure--and they find themselves in the ancestral home of the djinni himself!  It's a place of curses and angry spirits, and needless to say it doesn't make them rich.  With only one wish left, how will Maeve foil the plotting of a powerful business man who's found out about the sardine tin djinn, and make a better future for herself and her friends?

It's touch and go, but she does it, and I was happy to cheer her own!

I myself am a big fan of Nesbit (The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet in particular, despite the discomfort of some racist and classist elements typical of their time), and of Edward Eager, who follows in her footsteps with stories of kids finding magic (with much less for modern readers to object to), and then figuring out its rules.  Maeve obviously hasn't read these books, and it takes her a while to really think things through.  The evil business man, who threatens Maeve's family, gives her a worthwhile foe, and it's lots of fun to watch him getting his comeuppance!  I was a bit disappointed that the djinni didn't get more of a redemption arc, but you can't have everything.

A great read if you are in the mood for a light  historical fantasy romp that's lots of fun!  I dunno if kids these days ever read Nesbit and Eager, but this would conceivable be a great gateway to her books, and so I endorse it wholeheartedly for that reason as well as for its own sake!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

11/8/20

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/8/20)

Welcome to the first post-election round-up.  I for one am breathing a huge sigh of relief, and am hoping that now that I'm not staring at the NY Times homepage for most of the day I can get back to reading!  

Here's what I found this week.

The Reviews

The Barren Grounds (The Misewa Saga #1), by David Robertson, at Say What?

The Boy, The Wolf and The Stars, by Shivaun Plozza, at Glam Adelaide

Cinders & Sparrows by Stefan Bachmann, at Phoenix Book Company

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab, at Suzanne Goulden

Geeks and the Holy Grail (The Camelot Code #2), by Mari Mancusi, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Genny Faces the Green Knight, by Darrel Gregory, at Foreward Reviews

The Ghost in Apartment 2R, by Denis Markell, at Charlotte's Library

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at Never Not Reading

Haunting at the Hotel (Case Closed #3) by Lauren Magaziner, at Pages Unbound

In the Red, by Christopher Swiedler, at Geo Librarian

The Midnight Guardians, by Ross Montgomery, at Book Lover Jo

The School for Good and Evil (The School for Good and Evil #1), by Soman Chainani, at Jill's Book Blog

Scritch Scratch, by Lindsay Currie, at Puss Reboots

Tristan Strong Destroys the World, by Kwame Mbalia, at alibrarymama

The Way to Rio Luna by Zoraida Cordova, at alibarymama

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat, at Geo Librarian and Redeemed Reader

Two at alibrarymama- When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller, and The Magic in Changing Your Stars, by Leah Henderson

Two more at alibrarymama- Water Bears, by Kim Baker, and The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson

Authors and Interviews

Pam Muñoz Ryan (Mañanaland) at Kirkus

Bassem Youssef and Catherine Daly (The Magical Reality of Nadia) at WNDB

Karrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett (Gender Swapped Fairy Tales) at A little but a lot

Jeff Rosen (Caley Cross and the Hadeon Drop) at Middle Grade Minded

Catherine Gilbert Murdoc ( Da Vinci’s Cat), at Fuse #8

Ross Montgomery (The Midnight Guardians) at A little but a lot


Other Good Stuff

“A Second Rabadash” — C.S. Lewis and Dangerous Leaders" at Tor


and not mg sff related, but I wanted to say happy book birthday to Serena Says, by Tanita Davis! (Tanita is the first, and so far only, internet friend I've invited to stay at my house (actually it was mother's house) without having met them.  It was a truly lovely visit.)









The Ghost in Apartment 2R, by Denis Markell

The Ghost in Apartment 2R, by Denis Markell (middle grade, Delacorte Press, November 2019), was the only book I finished these past five days of compulsive news watching.  I'm hoping now it's over nothing horrible and stressful will happen, and I'll rebound into a more normal book a day routine...But in any event, this middle grade Brooklyn ghost story was a fun read, despite the distractions!

Danny has always lived in the shadow of his smart big brother Jake, and he's always lived in a converted closet, while Jake has occupied the second bedroom of the Brooklyn apartment.  Now that  Jake's off to college (Cornell), Danny assumes his parents will make good on their promise that he can move out of the closet and into Jake's room.  But no.

Instead, his parents, anxious about financing Jake's education, decide to rent it as an Air Hotel room.  Danny's pretty bitter; it hurts to watch his parents spending money and time fixing up the room that should have been his.  Then the room situation becomes the least of his problems.  Spooky things start happening--a girl looking in through the window of Jake's room shows up in photographs, computer glitches make it hard for guests to rent the room, and the bed falls apart-- and though alone they could be attributed to rational explanations, a ghost seems more and more likely.

But when he hears an angry moaning, and a pale, angry face appears at the window, he can't pretend something scary isn't happening.

Danny shares his fears Gus and Nat (Natalie), but though they're supportive, and Nat immediately clears out the library's ghost section for research, they don't know what to do.  Then the ghost starts possessing the house guests, using them to ask Danny where her little boy is.  Danny tells his Bubbe Ruth what's been happening, and she is sure it's a dybbuk, a spirt who needs help before it can find peace.   So, spearheaded by Nat, the trio embark on historical research, and at the Brooklyn Historical Society they find out about a tragedy that occurred years ago in Jake's room, in which a little boy died.

After much argument, Nat is allowed to stay overnight so she can help communicate with ghost.  Gus shows up uninvited too, and when the ghost possess him, they're able to put the pieces together to figure out how to comfort the ghost.

It's a creepy story, but not tremendously spooky.  For on thing, though the possession of various house guests is understandably scary for Danny when they come bursting into his room, the way it plays out is actually rather entertaining.  For another, there's no sense of impending danger; the ghost is angry, but doesn't seem malevolent.  The spooky parts are also considerably off-set by the warm reality of Danny's friends and the neighborhood they live in; details of all the epicurean delights sold in Nat's family's Middle Eastern deli, for instance, are so enticing that it's hard to remember the ghost (unless you're Danny....).  

So this one is a very good "first middle grade ghost story," just fine for the younger kids in the middle grade ranger (the nine year olds).  Those who have already read lots of mg ghost books might find it tame, but will still enjoy the humor and lively picture of Brooklyn, and story of the Air Hotel venture and the collection of guests it attracts.

It's also one I'm glad to recommend because there are very very few mg fantasy books with Jewish protagonists.  Danny's family aren't particularly observant, but it's still a central part of his family identity, and his Bubbe Ruth is a great Jewish grandma!  Nat, Middle Eastern, and Christian, adds diversity too.  On a more specific note, I really appreciated that Nat points out all the dead white men ornamenting the historical society!  Good job, Nat!

Glad it was nominated for the Cybils, which is why I read it!  

11/1/20

This week's round-up of mg fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (11/1/2020)

Welcome to the first round-up of November!  Only 2 more months of 2020 to go.  I don't have anything to contribute this week (the stress is killing my desire to blog), but fortunately other people talked about mg sff books (and I am determined to be one of those people next week)!

The Reviews

Bloom, by Kenneth Oppel, at Dead Houseplants 

The Box and The Dragonfly, by Ted Sanders, at Readaraptor

City of Ghosts, and Tunnel of Bones (Cassidy Blake, books 1 and 2) by Victoria Schwab, at The Bookwyrm's Den

Curse of the Night Witch, by Alex Aster, at alibrarymama 

The Day I Fell Into A Fairytale, by Ben Miller, at Library Girl and Book Boy

Dead Voices, by Katherine Arden, at Pages Unbound

Diana and the Island of No Return, by Aisha Saeed, at Not Acting My Age 

Embassy of the Dead, by Will Mabbitt, at Sally's Bookshelf

The Girl and the Ghost, by Hanna Alkaf, at Semicolon

Hide and Seeker, by Daka Hermon, at Falling Letters

Hollowpox (Morrigan Crow #3), by Jessica Townsend, at Nerdophiles, Log Cabin Library, and The Bookwyrm's Den

Just Beyond the Very, Very Far North, by Dan Bar-El, at Kid Lit Reviews

Kingston and the Magician's Lost and Found, by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Last Mirror on the Left, by Lamar Giles, at Rosi Hollinbeck

The Magician’s Key, by Matthew Cody, at Fantasy Literature

Mañanaland, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, at alibrarymama and Geo Librarian

Mulan -- Before the Sword, by Grace Lin, at Geo Librarian 

Never and Forever (Wizards of Once Book 4), by Cressida Cowell, at Magic Fiction Since Potter

Paola Santiago and the River of Tears, by Tehlor Kay Mejia, at alibrarymama 

Small Spaces, by Katherine Arden, at Pages Unbound

The Smartest Kid in the Universe, by Chris Grabenstein, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Time Traveller and the Tiger, by Tania Unsworth, at Book Craic

The Timeless One (The Revenge of Magic #4),   by James Riley, at Carstairs Considers

When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller, at Say What?

Wishes and Wellingtons, by Julie Berry, at Cracking the Cover

6 capsule reviews at Semicolon--Quintessence by Jess Redman, Catalyst by Sarah Beth Durst, The Forest of Stars by Heather Kassner, Scritch Scratch by Lindsay Currie, The Copycat by Wendy McLeod MacKnight, Arcade and the Fiery Metal Tester (The Coin Slot Chronicles) by Rashad Jennings

8 spooky mg books at alibrarymama

Authors and Interviews

Ben Gartner (Sol Invictus) at MG Book Village 

Kory Merritt (No Place for Monsters) at Spooky MG

Other Good Stuff

Wicked Witches in Children's Fiction, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

10/30/20

Mary: the Adventures of Mary Shelley's Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter, by Breat Grant and Yishan Li


Mary: the Adventures of Mary Shelley's Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaughter, by Breat Grant and Yishan Li (YA, Six Foot Press, October 2020), is a fun graphic novel, great for Halloween reading, or any time, really.

16 year old Mary Shelley has no interest in carrying on the family tradition of being a writer; living with a mother who's a famous author who puts her writing ahead of everything else has soured her on it.  But she can't escape her Shelly heritage.

The first sign of strangeness comes when the frog she's dissecting in biology class jerks to life.  Mary tries to explain it away.  But when a rather cute (though strangely pale) boy shows up, asking her to sew his foot back on,  Mary can't pretend things are normal.  When more monsters start showing up at her house, asking for medical care, she fights against her new calling as their doctor, though slowly she finds herself accepting and using her gift.  Then things get even more complicated when demons begin to object to her work, and come after her...(her mother's objections are a lot easier to dismiss).

Though I found the story telling a bit choppy at times, and even had check to make sure I hadn't missed anything, I enjoyed this (I'm not a great graphic novel reader, so I think experienced fans of the form might find it smoother sailing).  The plot was gripping, and I laughed out loud at some of the snappy dialogue and some of the especially amusing illustrations of the monsters (for instance, the ghost of Shirly Jackson is inhabiting a stuffed bunny rabbit).

Teens feeling pressured by familial expectations, trying to figure out what to do with their own lives, will relate strongly to Mary. Goth girls, especially, will love her.  The artwork was an intriguing mix of dark and bright scenes, adding nicely to the rhythm of the story.  

A strong start to the series, and the revel toward the end about Mary's real world best friend, Rhonda (who is black) makes me think it will get even better!

disclaimer: review copy received from its publicist

10/25/20

A quick open letter to authors re the Cybils awards

I am writing this surrounded by stacks of library books check out in late September and early October, all elementary/middle grade fantasy and science fiction, that I wanted to quickly read to help me make my choice of what to nominate for the Cybils Awards. (This is the category for which I'm the category organizer, btw).  Sadly I could only nominate one book, and many of the books I checked out are now looking at me sadly...  

We have lots of great books nominated, but still lots of great books didn't get a nod.  Folks were stuck at home, not able to browse libraries and bookstores, and I think this had an impact on what we got in our public nomination period.

All is not lost, though! We at the Cybils are currently welcoming nominations from publishers and authors to fill in some of the gaps.

Are you an author of a children's/YA book that came out in the US/Canada between October 16, 2019 and October 15, 2020 that didn't get nominated during the public part of Cybils Awards nominations? If by the end of the day tomorrow your publisher hasn't nominated it, you can nominate it yourself (and independently published books are welcome too!)  Your book will be judged just the same way as a public nomination, and it will get a bit of publicity from being on Cybils website's list of nominated books, and will quite possibly get reviewed by panelists.  And it might be one us first round readers fall in love with, and send on to the next round!

More information here at the Cybils website!

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (10/25/20)

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

The Reviews

The Captive Kingdom, by Jennifer A. Nielsen, at Geo Librarian 

Carnival Catastrophe (The Problim Children #2) by Natalie Lloyd, at Geo Librarian

The Castle of Tangled Magic, by Sophie Anderson, at Book Craic

Curse of the Wish Eater, by Mike Ford, at Twirling Book Princess

Dragonspell (DragonKeeper Chronicles #1), by Donita K. Paul, at Say What?

Fiends on the Other Side, by Vera Strange, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Game Masters of Garden Place, by Denis Markell, at Puss Reboots

The Haunted Key (Frightville) by Mike Ford, at Twirling Book Princess

Ikenga, by Nnedi Okorafor, at Waking Brain Cells

The Last Mirror on the Left, by Lamar Giles, at alibrarymama, proseandkahnAlways in the Middle, and Ms. Yingling Reads

The Lost Wonderland Diaries, by J. Scott Savage, at Jill's Book Blog

Midnight Magic, by Michelle Harrison, at Book Craic

Paris on Repeat, by Amy Bearce, at Charlotte's Library

Part of your Nightmare, by Vera Strange, at Rajiv's Reviews

Rise of ZomBert, by Kara LaReau, at Sally's Bookshelf

The Shadow Cipher (York #1), by Laura Ruby, at Leaf's Reviews

Spindlefish and Stars, by Christiane M. Andrews, at Waking Brain Cells

The Ten Riddles of Earth Quicksmith, by Loris Owen, at Book Lover Jo

They Threw Us Away, by Daniel Kraus, at The Bibliosanctum

Thirteens, by Kate Alice Marshall, at Charlotte's Library

The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay, at Library Lady

The Tower of Nero, by Rick Riordan, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Two at The Book Search-Tristan Strong Destroys the World, by Kwame Mbalia, and Fart Quest by Aaron Reynolds

Two at Bookends-The Puppet’s Payback and Other Chilling Tales, by Mary Downing Hahn, and Thirteens, by Kate Alice Marshall

Three at alibrarymama- Muse Squad: the Cassandra Curse by Chantel Acevedo, Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi, and If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith

Four at Feed Your Fiction Addiction--Race to the Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse, Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, The Dragon Thief by Zetta Elliott, The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown


Authors and Interviews

agent Adria Goetz and author G.Z. Schmidt (No Ordinary Thing) at Literary Rambles

Tania del Rio, S.A. (Sheri) Larsen, Cynthia Reeg, and Lisa Schmid at Spooky MG

David Levithan  (The Mysterious Disappearance of Aidan S. (as told to his brother) at Nerdy Book Club (though I'm not sure this is actually spec fic)

Robin Stevens Payes (Saving Time), at Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb

Other Good Stuff

Tor's reread of The Horse and His Boy continues

Tor shares the first trailer for Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon

10/24/20

Thirteens, by Kate Alice Marshall

I just read Thirteens, by Kate Alice Marshall (Viking, August 2020), in a one and a half hour single sitting (more or less); it was a lovely spooky mystery!  Because I'm going to have to spoil things in writing about the book (although the official blurb spoils everything) , I'll just quickly note that it's a good one if you like to read about kids in supernatural peril (of the bad bargain with fey folk kind), who find the clues to save themselves in old fairy tales and the town archives, and who have each other's backs beautifully, you'll like it lots!  

Elle has come to the idyllic little town of Eden Eld in Oregon, where she was born, to live with her aunt and uncle, after her house burned and her mother disappeared.  She is sad and scared to start with, determined to be Normal, to just get through each day. Normal is hard, though, when Elle begins seeing impossible, disturbing, even terrifying things, like a fearsome black dog with red eyes that no one else seems to see. Then she finds two kids at her school, Pip and Otto, who click with her and become friends before she can over-think it--and they can see these same very wrong things too.  They also share her birthday--all three will turn 13 on Halloween, a week away.  And they very quickly start figuring out that they aren't going to get festivities and parties.  Instead, they have to figure out how to save themselves from malevolent supernatural forces straight out of the fairy tale book Elle's mom read her over and over when she was little. 

And this is the spoilery part--

The three kids are going to be sacrificed in order for the town to prosper.  Ever since the town was founded back in the 19th, every thirteen years 3 kids born on Halloween are handed over to a supernatural, very wrong and creepy sort of being  to be taken by them out of our world.  In exchange, money magically flows into the town. And the grownups who are in charge of the town's end of the ritual bargain think it's still a good idea.

Elle, Pip, and Otto don't.  They think it stinks (especially since they are in mortal peril).  But they don't want to just save themselves; they want to make sure that future kids are safe too.

And this is something that I think make this book one that might speak to kids rather powerfully   (although I'm not sure the author in fact had this in mind or if I'm reading too much into it).  The grown-ups have made a horrible bargain.  Their comfortable, prosperous lives come at the expense of the unlucky kids who have no future, and Elle, Pip, and Otto are basically saying ok, Boomer, and not standing for it. (although after writing this, I realized to my horror that the bad grown-ups would be Gen X...like me. Parents sure are getting younger these days!)

I'm glad it was nominated for the Cybils awards, which is why I read it; the cover and the Goodreads synopsis don't suggest at all the strong fairy tale elements of rules and tricks and hidden clues that are central to the story!  I enjoyed it lots, and if you also like bizarre old houses, fairy tales, monstrous giant ash cats who have figured out how to bend the rules of the game, and good friends, do give it a try! 

(Otto is described, and shown on the cover, as brown-skinned, so I'll add this to my diverse fantasy list)

10/20/20

Paris on Repeat, by Amy Bearce, for Timeslip Tuesday


Paris on Repeat, by Amy Bearce (July 2020, Jolly Fish Press) is both a really fun and somewhat heart wrenchingly realistic upper- middle grade ground-hog day time slip story.

Eve, a military kid, is determined she'll make the most of her 8th grade trip to Paris.  She going to get over her inhibitions, and give a note to the boy she likes, Jace, telling him how she feels about him.  But before she screws up her courage to do so, she sees Jace and her best friend, Reggie, kissing in the Eiffel Tower.  Sure, Reggie challenged Jace with dare to do it, but as the day goes on, Eve watches in horrified jealous anger as they realize they really do like each other.  They even decide to put a lock on the famous bridge of love to seal the deal.  The rather mysterious old lady who sells them the lock gives Eve the key, and when Jace and Reggie aren't looking, she unlocks it and throws it into the river.

And then the next morning Eve wakes up to find she's living the same day over again!  It's another chance to tell Jace how she feels, and so she does her best to keep him and Reggie apart, but it doesn't work. She changes a few things to make her horrible day better, but the next morning, she repeating it all over again.  The old lady lets her know that the changes she needs to make are bigger than the small things....and Eve finds that ending one day by pushing Reggie into the river is not the change she needs to make!  When Reggie wakes up repeating the day alongside Eve, Eve has to come clean about how she really feels about Jace.  In the end she realizes that her friendship with Reggie is more important than her crush (which turns out to be unrequited in any event), and she becomes a braver, more open person, sharing her anger and sadness about her parents planned divorce, and realizing that she doesn't have to monopolize Reggie's friendship, making room in her mind to cultivate another friendship with a girl she's previously seen only as a rival for Reggie's attention.

Though it's the same day over and over, Eve's impressions of the sights of Paris change along with her feelings towards Reggie and Jace, and it doesn't get at all repetitive!  In fact, because Eve is becoming more thoughtful and mature, and more likeable and relatable as a result, it becomes more interesting every day (and also the suspense of Eve trying to figure out what she needs to change adds interest!).

The angst, the drama, and the growing up are all so typically, painfully middle grade that it's easy to imagine kids loving this one, especially older mg kids starting to get romance on their minds.  Paris is beautifully described too!  I really enjoyed it, and it made me happy when I marked it as read on Goodreads to see that is "Wish and Wander, book 1."  A teaser at the end points to Rome for the next book....I look forward to it!

10/18/20

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (10/18/20)

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

The Reviews

The Barren Grounds, by David A. Robertson, at Writer's Alley

The Beyonders Trilogy, by Brandon Mull, at Redeemed Reader

The Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Creatures, by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Pham Quang Phuc, at Sharon the Librarian

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, at Geo Librarian

Don’t Let The Doll In. by Mike Ford, at Twirling Book Princess

The Edge of Everywhen, by A.S. Mackey, at K.A. Cummins

The Endangered, by Philippe Cousteau and Austin Aslan, at Always in the Middle

Fiends on the Other Side, by Vera Strange, at The Bookwyrm's Den and Nerdophiles

The Fire Star: A Maven & Reeve Mystery, by A.L. Tait, at Children's Books Daily

Gobbledy, by Lis Anna-Langston, at Kids Lit Review

Midnight Magic, by Michelle Harrison, at Book Lover Jo and Library Girl and Book Boy

Molly Thompson and the Crypt of the Blue Moon, by Nick Tomlinson, at Book Craic

Mulan: Before the Sword, by Grace Lin, at Semicolon

Orion Lost, by Alastair Chisholm, at My Best Friends are Books

Rival Magic, by Deva Fagan, at Semicolon

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker, illustrated by Junyi Wu, at Pages Unbound 

The Silver Box, by Margi Preus, at The Muffin

The Sisters of Straygarden Place, by Hayley Chewins, at Waking Brain Cells, Our Thoughts Precisely, Cracking the Cover, and Read and Reviewed

Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen, at Redeemed Reader and books4yourkids

The Time of Green Magic, by Hilary McKay, at Redeemed Reader

The Time Thief (The Gideon Trilogy #2),  by Linda Buckley-Archer, at Say What?
Tommy Black and the Coat of Invincibility (Tommy Black #2), by Jake Kerr, at S.W. Lothian

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky, by Kwame Mbalia, at Emerald City Bookworm

Welcome To Superhero School, by Gracie Dix, at Book Briefs and Mermaid Reads

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, at Never Not Reading

Witch Wars, by Alane Adams, at Always in the Middle

Two at alibrarymama--Shuri, by Nic Stone, and Ikenga, by Nnedi Okorafor

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads-- Dragon Mountain (#1), by Katie Tsang, and Kevin Tsang, and The Fallen Hero (Dragon Warrior #2), by Katie Zhao

Four at Feed Your Fiction Addiction--A Wish in the Dark, Ghost Squad, Scritch Scratch, & Midnight at the Barclay Hotel

Authors and Interviews

William Ritter (Deepest, Darkest: the Oddmire #3) at MG Book Village

Amy Wilson (Owl and the Lost Boy) at Book Lover Jo

Christian McKay Heidicker (Scary Stories for Young Foxes) at Fuse #8 

Haley Chewins (The Sisters of Straygarden Place), at Nerdy Book Club

Sherry Ellis (Bubba and Squirt's Mayan Adventure) at Literary Rambles

Other Good Stuff

Bookslists-- 
Spooky middle grade at Book Riot and The Contented Reader 
Six MG and YA titles for Black SFF Month, at Brain Mill Press Voices

Goddesses, Queens, and Witches, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

The first-ever winners of the Ignyte Awards were announced at FIYAHCON 2020! FIYAH created the awards to “celebrate the vibrancy and diversity of the current and future landscapes of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.”

Here are the middle grade books chosen:

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky – Kwame Mbalia (Disney Hyperion) (Winner) 
Just South of Home – Karen Strong (S&S BYR)* 
The Mystwick School of Musicraft – Jessica Khoury (Audible/HMH BYR)* ** 
Other Words for Home – Jasmine Warga (HarperCollins) 
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe – Carlos Hernandez (Disney Hyperion)

*BYR: “Books for Young Readers” 
** audiobook released in 2019

And finally, the public nomination period for the Cybils has closed, and although 100s of great kids and YA books were nominated, there are still many excellent books that aren't.  Publishers and authors have until October 25th at 11:59 p.m. PDT to fll in the cracks- here's where you start with that.


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