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

This week's round-up of science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs is up (5/8/16)

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

The Reviews

The Calling, by Philip Caveney, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Criminal Destiny (Masterminds, #2) by Gordon Korman, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia Wrede, at Semicolon

Everland, by Wendy Spinale, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore, at On Starships and Dragonwings and BN Kids Blog

Fridays with the Wizards, by Jessica Day George, at Fantasy Literature

The Girl in the Tower, by Lisa Schroeder, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Harp and the Ravenvine, by Ted Sanders, at This Kid Reviews Books

Key Hunters--The Mysterious Moonstone and The Spy's Secret, by Eric Luper, at Charlotte's Library

Magic Marks the Spot, by Caroline Carlson, at Pages Unbound

The Map to Everywhere, by Carrie Ryan & John Parke Davis (audiobook review), at Got My Book

The Mysterious Abductions (The Nocturnals, #1) by Tracey Hecht, at Kid Lit Reviews, and Always in the Middle

The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel, at books4yourkids.com

Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, at Charlotte's Library

Project Alpha  (Voyagers #1) by D.J. MacHale, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, by Patrick Samphire, at Boys Rule Boys Read!

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier, at Great Kid Books

The Trials of Apollo, by Rick Riordan, at BN Kids Blog

Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung, at Charlotte's Library

The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Wishing Day, by Lauren Myracle, and Once Upon a Frog, by Sarah Mlynowski

Authors and Interviews

Kathryn Tanquary (The Night Parade) at Cynsations

Lauren Oliver, H.C. Chester, and Chubby (The Screaming Statue) at The Reading Nook Reviews

Other Good Stuff

The Guardian picks the top ten dragons in fiction

The registration information and call for proposals for Kidlitcon 2016 is up!  KidLitCon 2016 will be held October 14th and 15th in Wichita, KS. This year’s theme is Gatekeepers and Keymasters: Connecting bloggers, librarians, teachers, authors, and parents to promote literacy.


Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung

Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung (Arthur A. Levine Books, middle grade, April 26, 2016), is a book I've been looking forward to for ages.  Mike Jung's first book, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities was excellent middle grade fantastical fun with a twist, and I wanted more! USO is also excellent middle grade speculative fiction story with a twist, and there are plenty of amusing parts, but I wouldn't call it a light-hearted romp.  Which is fine, because it's not like middle school is one light-hearted romp after another.  Middle school is more about figuring out who you are, and who you want to be, and this is what is preoccupying the heroine, Chloe Cho.  Her family are the only Asians in a small middle American town, and Chloe's teeth are very much on edge about the clueless stereotypes, confusions, and thoughtless racism that's she's put up with all her life. She's smart and plays the violin well not because she's Korean, but because she's Chloe, her own person for crying out loud.

Chloe's teeth are also on edge because of her parents' lack of understanding that she might want to explore Korean culture, and hear stories of her family, and that she might want a bit of help figuring out what that part of her identity entails.   When (wonder of wonders!) her new social studies teacher turns out to be Korean as well, something in Chloe relaxes, but her teacher doesn't exactly help her feel comfortable in her own skin.  Instead, when she assigns a family history project, which goes very wrong for Chloe, things get even more uncomfortable.  Chloe's anger starts driving her best friend Shelley away, and that just makes her madder.

And then Chloe's parents throw her an utterly astonishing curveball of family history that, in it's unexpectedness and unbelievableness, jars her out of her loop of angry withdrawal, and (somewhat ironically, given what she learns) she's able to find herself again.  There have been negative consequences to her rebellion, and they don't magically go away, but it's clear that Chloe is on her way to being a stronger person (and she and Shelley repair their friendship, which is nice for both of them!).

I couldn't quite warm to USO, because Chloe was just so darn prickly so much of the time, with reason, and totally believably in a middle grade way, but still, not much empathy.  The twist that makes this speculative fiction, though, is just spot on appealing for the target audience.  I think that if you like realistic fiction in which the tension comes from internal conflicts (rather than, for instance, distant, drunk, or dead parents/friends/siblings), and if you enjoy having that realism turned on its head (while managing to remain fully rooted in our world), you'll like this one lots.  My friend Brandy, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile, did, for instance, and Ms. Yingling recommends it as well, so there you go.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales, for Timeslip Tuesday

I have  actually gotten my ducks in a row and have a book for this week's Timeslip Tuesday--Once Was a Time, by Leila Sales (Chronicle Books, Middle Grade, April 5, 2016).

In England in WW II, Lottie's scientist father spends his days trying to figure out the secrets of time travel.  He believes that shimmering time portals randomly appear, but doesn't know how they work.  Time travel could have military uses, and so 10-year-old  Lottie and her dearest friend Kitty are taken hostage; the kidnappers think her dad knows more than he's letting on, and are going to kill the two girls unless he spills his secretes. 

And then a time portal appears (!) and Lottie, hardly pausing to think, jumps through to escape her captors, leaving Kitty behind.  And her father, and the whole world of WW II England. She finds herself in our time, in the Midwest, in her pajamas in the middle of nowhere, with no way to get home again.  Fortunately, she finds a friendly library (which has relevance to the plot).  Fortunately as well, she is taken in by a foster family (child services is almost magically wonderful), and so she becomes an ordinary American school kid.  Except that she is haunted not just by her lost life in generally, but by her abandonment of Kitty.  Never will she have another friend like her, and so she goes along with the group of girls who took her in, enchanted by her English accent, even though she doesn't have much in common with her.

But then she finds something hidden in a copy of her favorite book that gives her hope that she might find Kitty again, that maybe Kitty didn't die, even though that's what it says on line.  And so she finds a way to get to Italy, with the help of a boy who could have been her friend if her clique of girls hadn't taught her to shun him,  following clues that Kitty maybe, perhaps, left.....

This is both a good, solid time travel story (by which I mean it deals with the whole cultural dislocation of time travel nicely, without getting too terribly caught up in Lottie's exploration of the wonders of the future), mixed with a good friendship story--being true to yourself and making friends with who you want to be friends with without getting caught up in peer pressure.  The best part of the book was when Lottie and the shuned boy who is now her friend get to know and appreciate each other, and Lottie starts realizing that even though she left Kitty that doesn't mean she shouldn't ever be allowed to have good friends again. 

So if you go to Amazon you'll see that there are people saying this will appeal to fans of When You Reach Me and Wrinkle in Time.  Um, not so much, I think, especially not Wrinkle in Time which is not actually about time travel qua time travel for crying out loud.  And When You Reach Me feels like it has sharper edges than this one.  I think it will really appeal to fans of Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer, which probably hasn't be read by young people today....to me, a fan of older English books like that one, it had a lovely familiar feel and I enjoyed it very much.  A contemporary review of Charlotte Sometimes said ""…this is really a study in disintegration, the study of a girl finding an identity by losing it… " and this is exactly what happens to the Charlotte of Once Was a Time as well.
It also reminded me of  Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Clarise Mericle Harper.  But even if you don't like time travel for its own sake, it's also a good one for fans of middle school girl friendship drama.

And now I will treat myself to a round of "What does Kirkus say?"


Total agreement!  Kirkus says:  Her transition to her new life is awkward but realistic, and the focus of this charming novel is always on friendship and loyalty. Rewarding and uplifting."

So there you go.


Key Hunters--The Mysterious Moonstone and The Spy's Secret, by Eric Luper

Key Hunters is a new series by Eric Luper that's a good choice for older elementary kids not yet ready for fantasy door stopper books.  The font size and spacing fits my sense of  "chapter books for young readers," and the plots are such as will be more pleasing to the young reader who has little experience with genre fiction, for whom mystery solving in historical times and spy foiling with lots of technology involved are still new fictional ground.  The first two books, The Case of the Mysterious Moonstone, and The Spy's Secret, just came out (Scholastic, April 26, 2016).

Cleo and Evan were very fond of their old school librarian, who was also fond of them, and encouraged them to enjoy the library.  She's been replaced (without saying goodbye) by a new librarian, a nasty piece of work, who wants the kids to sit and be quiet, and nothing else, when they are in the library.  One day Cleo and Evan happen to be in the library when they hear  the bad librarian muttering to herself, then crying out and disappearing.  She's gone through a hidden doorway, opened by a book in the literature section, and Cleo and Evan head off down the secret stairs to find out what's going one.  In the room below, there's a note from the good librarian, saying she's stuck in a book, but has left clues to be followed to find her.  The Case of the Mysterious Moonstone lies on a table, and when the kids open the book, they find themselves whirling into its 19th century world, where they are characters helping to solve the mystery of a missing gem.  The bad librarian is there too, in the role of a villain.

But though the moonstone mystery is solved, Cleo and Evan don't find the good librarian.  So they head into another book, The Spy's Secret, where they are spy kids with lots of gadgets, trying to foil the plot of the evil Viper who's plotting world domination from his underwater lair.  The bad librarian is also there a villain, but somewhat more ambiguously so than she was in the first book, which adds interest.  Once again, they don't find the good librarian, but perhaps they will in the third book, The Haunted Howl, coming in September.

If you are older than ten or so, you can skip these, but they are good ones for the target audience.  These are books I'd give to any fans of the A-Z mysteries, for instance (do kids these days still read those?).  The many cartoonish illustrations will help uncertain readers along, and the stories move briskly.  And of course they are good gateways to all the books for older kids out there in which the characters fall into the world of stories; for instance, a nice next step might be The Island of Dr. Libris, or Chris Colfer's Land of Stories series, though the later, in particular, is a perhaps a bit of a jump in terms of number of words....

Here's what I personally appreciated--Evan and Cleo work together as equal friendly partners, and as the cover shows, Evan's a kid of color, a fact that has no bearing on the plot.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


My latest batch of dragon books is up at B. and N. Kids; here's what I didn't say there

I have a very nice batch lot of current MG Dragon Books up at BN Kids blog, and it was a pleasure to read them and to recommend them.

But there are certain things I couldn't say at B.and N., partly because of space constraints, and partly because the point is to be enthusiastic about books, not share my own idiosyncrasies, and there are three things in particular that I want to share here that I didn't feel comfortable sharing there.

A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, is the sequel to the very excellent A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans.  Here's what I couldn't say--this sequel is just fine, and I enjoyed reading it.  But what I loved about the first book was the two main characters, dragon and girl, figuring out their relationship.  Here that relationship has been pretty much worked out, so this second book is more a string of episodic adventures, which are fine if you like episodic adventures but I like narrowly focused character relationships more (as long as the characters are interesting).

Dragons vs. Drones, by Wesley King.  What I couldn't say--What the hell are they eating?  I was pleased when one main character packs a granola bar in his backpack at the start of his adventures--here, I thought, is an author that knows his characters need to eat, and that middle grade and teen kids often think about eating.  I was so wrong.  Weeks go by before the two main characters eat again, and since they have fled a city being destroyed to take shelter in a remote dragon cave, far from any kitchen, it is hard to imagine that there would be anything for them to eat even if it occurred to them.  I don't need to know the details of every meal, but when I start to imagine the main characters stoically starving to death it distracts me from the story.  The granola bar is never eaten on page, either.  I think if you mention a granola bar at the beginning of the book, it should be eaten by the end of it.  Although God knows many a middle grade back pack has an ancient granola bar substrate.

I don't think the lack of food will bother the target audience, who in my experience are used to food magically just being always available with arm's reach (although my older son has been forced to walk down the street in the rain to buy cheerios on occasion).

The Trelian series, by Michelle Knudsen.  What I couldn't say quite this enthusiastically--I reread the first two right before reading the final book that just came out, The Mage of Trelian, and oh boy was it a fine reading experience going from the beginning all the way to the end!  I felt Love, untrammeled by food concerns, as -character driven adventures, which were also tense and desperate circumstance-adventures, swept me along in the story.  I also happen to like magic that involves color; the mage of Trelian has a sort of magical synesthesia and so he sees different types of spells as having different colors.

This week's round-up of middle grade science ficiton and fantasy from around the blogs (5/1/16)

Yay, April is over.  It was brutal--I had to give four talks yesterday at my office's preservation conference.  It was a lovely day (and one of my talks was a boat tour, which was a treat), but Hard Work.  But now that it is May I will read and review all the books and clean and repaint the house and pull up all the weeds and study French every day with my 15 year old and eat only healthy food etc. etc.

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week; let me know if I missed your post and I'll add it!

The Reviews

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians: The Knights of Crystallia, by Brandon Sanderson, at Nerdophiles

A Chance Child, by Jill Paton Walsh, at Time Travel Times Two

The Colossus Rises (Seven Wonders, 1) by Peter Lerrangis, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Curse of the Chocolate Phoenix, by Kate Saunders, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Freya and the Dragon Egg, by K.W. Penndorf, at Views from the Tesseract

The Girl Who Could Not Dream, by Sarah Beth Durst, at Finding Wonderland

Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel, by Megan Morrison, at The Quite Concert

Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic by Ursula Vernon, at Jean Little Library and Puss Reboots

Island of the Sun (Dark Gravity, Book 2) by Matthew Kirby, at Hidden in Pages

The Key to Extraordinary, by Natalie Lloyd, at Log Cabin Library

The Legend of Sam Miracle (Outlaws of Time, book one), by N.D. Wilson, at Librarian of Snark

Mabel Jones and the Forbidden City, by Will Mabbitt, at Log Cabin Library

Mark of the Thief, by Jennifer Nielson, at Tales from the Raven

The Mirror's Tale, by P.W. Catanese, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The People in the Castle, by Joan Aiken, at Tor

A Pocket Full of Murder by R. J. Anderson, at Leaf's Reviews

The Power of Dark, by Robin Jarvis, at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Red: the True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtiff, at Sharon the Librarian and Librarian of Snark

The Roquefort Gang by Sandy Clifton at Semicolon

The Screaming Statue, by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester, at Middle Grade Ninja and Always in the Middle

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire, at alibrarymama

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at Mister K Reads

Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan, at No BS Book Reviews 

Sword in the Stacks (Ninja Librarians Book 2), by Jen Swann Downey, at ALA's Intellectual Freedom Blog

Surviving the  Improbable Quest, by Anderson Atlas, at Readioactive Books

Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Authors and Interviews

Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester (The Screaming Statue) at Middle Grade Ninja, interview with Andrew the Alligator Boy at Middle Grade Ninja and interview with Sam at Always in the Middle


The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater

Well, after the last few years of pouncing on every previous book in the Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater, and turning the pages with feverish intensity, I am so very glad that I don't have to worry about Blue and the Raven boys anymore!  At least, not as much.  But it was very worrying there while it lasted, what with Blue's curse (that the first kiss she gives her true love will kill him) and the very real real real likelihood/possibility of Gansey dying (not just because of him being Blue's true love) and Ronan's rather difficult nature and unusual family circumstances, and Adam's rather difficult situation and abusive family circumstances.  I have wanted very badly indeed for everyone to get happy endings....

So then The Raven King (Scholastic, April 26, 2016) arrived in the mail, brightening my day and filling the next few evenings, and I can't say much about the specifics of the story because that would be unfair to anyone who hasn't read the books (because you should read the books!).

But I can say a few things--

1.  if you have time to refresh your memory with a re-read, that would be good.  It took me a while to get back in the swing of things and remember who all the secondary characters were, and all the very many bits of story that happened (I found myself thinking of Bruegel a lot as I started reading--it's a very dense landscape, that requires immersion and attentiveness to full enjoy).

2.  The best part of the books has always been the friendship, a friendship as deep as love, between the main characters.   This part got even better.  A new Raven boy has joined in, Henry, who you may remember from the last book....and he's great and interesting in his own right (there are more tremendously attractive and intelligent and truly individual boys in this series than any other I can think of, and really this is the only thing that keeps me from pressing the books into the hands of my own target audience, because these boys are so charismatic it's hard for real ones to measure up)  and, unlike all the other main characters, Henry the new kid isn't white (Korean mother, father from Hong Kong).  So it's nice there's diversity.  (There's also an LGBT bit thrown into the larger mix here).

3.  How, I wondered for the past few years, will Maggie Steifvater wrap everything up without a cataclysm in a way that is satisfying?  Especially now that she has unleased a demon who is destroying the magical forest of Cabeswater.  She does (except for one thing I'm not sure about (highlight to see)--what happened to Noah?)

So basically, if you like twisty, mythology-rooted, magic impinging on reality, character-driven fantasy, read these books if you haven't already!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher in the sort of package in the mail form that makes blogging worthwhile!


This week's round up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (4/24/16)

Welcome to this week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction gather in my blog reading!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians: The Scriveners Bones, by Brandon Sanderson, at Nerdophiles

Deadweather and Sunrise, by Geoff Rodkey, at Leaf's Reviews

The Eye of Midnight, by Andrew Brumbach, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the H.A.T.B.O.X. by Frank Beddor and Adrienne Kress, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Girl in the Tower, by Lisa Schroeder, at Cracking the Cover

The Girl of Ink & Stars, by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester, at Pages Unbound

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Puss Reboots

Hour of the Bees, by Lindsay Eagar, at Randomly Reading

Hunters of Chaos, by Crystal Velasquez, at Puss Reboots

Infestation, by Timothy J. Bradley, at Jean Little Library

The Inquisitor's Mark, by Dianne Salerni, at Tales From the Raven

Jurassic Classics: The Prehistoric Masters of Literature by Saskia  Lacey, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Key to Extraordinary, by Natalie Lloyd, at Life With the Tribe

Key Hunters, books 1 and 2, by Eric Luper, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Monstrous, by MarcyKate Connolly, at Book Yabber

The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions, by Tracey Hecht, at Mom Read It

Pilfer Academy, by Lauren Magaziner, at Middle Grade Marioso (not sure it's fantasy, but it sure is improbable in real life!)

The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse, by Brian Farrey, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

Shadow Magic, by Joshua Khan, at BN Kids Blog

Spaced Out, by Stuart Gibbs, at BN Kids Blog

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier, at Charlotte's Library, BN Kids Blog, and Sense and Sensibility and Stories

The Sword of Summer, by Rick Riodan, at Leaf's Reviews

Thursdays With the Crown, by Jessica Day George, at Fantasy Literature

The Tournament at Gorlan, by John Fanagan, at Log Cabin Library

Unidentified Suburban Object, by Mike Jung, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile

Wednesdays in the Tower, by Jessica Day George, at Fantasy Literature

Will Wilder: The Relic of Perilous Falls, by Raymond Arroyo, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Authors and Interviews

Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester (The Screaming Statue) at This Kid Reviews Books and Literary Rambles

Brian Farrey The Secret of Dreadwillow Carse. at From The Mixed Up Files

Ted Sanders The Keepers: The Harp and the Ravenvine at The Children's Book Review

Liesl Shurtliff (Red: The True Story of Little Red Riding Hood) at The Hiding Spot

Rick Riordan at The Guardian, and talking specifically about writing as Apollo in The Hidden Oracle at the Barnes and Noble Kids Blog

Other Good Stuff

Fairy Tale chapter book chat at School Library Journal

"Guess the dragon in children's literature" quiz at the Guardian

Thought on history and memory in the works of Diana Wynne Jones at The Book Wars

A list of "top ten middle grade fantasies that made me laugh out loud" at alibrarymama

and finally, NASA continues to be utterly cool with this new series of travel destination posters, incuding one for our very own planet "where the air is free and breathing is easy" (I meant to post this link last week, but it is even better for this Earth Day week)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier

I don't usually post a review first thing Sunday morning, because my weekly round-up always comes then.  And it will come today...but I am tired of not having anything myself to contribute (the last few weeks have been brutally filled with other commitments) so I am quickly offering a review of Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier (Harry N. Abrams, April 2016), the sequel to Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes. The first adventure of Peter Nimble was not quite to my personal taste; I didn't understand why so many people loved it so fervently.  Happily for me, I enjoyed this second book much more, partly because the main character, Sophie Quire, is tailor-made for bibliophiles.

Sophie is a book mender, working in her father's book shelf carefully and skillfully repairing books, a trade her murdered mother had taught her.  But the town she lives in has been overtaken by a movement led by Inquisitor Prigg to purge nonsense from daily life--and nonsense means all magic, and all books, because books of course are full of a magic of their own.  When Sophie is arrested for saving some books from the to-be-burned pile, she is saved by two unlikely heroes--Peter Nimble himself, and his friend Sir Tode (a knight transformed into a hooved catlike creature).  Peter Nimble is not there by chance.  He has come to deliver a very special book to Sophie, the Book of Who.  It is on of four magical books, each with their extraordinary ability to answer their own question--Who, What, When and Why.  Each book had a storyguard to keep it safe, and now Sophie finds herself the storyguard of the Book of Who.

Then she finds herself running for her life as she and Peter (and Sir Tode) set out to try to find the other three books, before Inquisitor Prigg, and other enemies as well, can get their hands on them!  The dangerous excitements of Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes are here as well, and there is one hair raising adventure after another.  But there's more depth of character to Sophie's story.   Peter, for instance, finally shows weakness and self-doubt, making him more human and relatable.  His blindness is still magically compensated for, but the loss of his hand becomes a genuine handicap.  And Sophie herself is a fine character, one such as any book loving girl can relate to.  On the plus side, she is also a kid of color, a brown-skinned girl (like her foreign mother) in a world of white faces.

It's not just an adventure, but a testimony to the power of stories.  And though there's still a bit too much of the adventurous shenanigans for my own very personal taste, it's a fine read, and Auxier's any fans should enjoy it very much indeed. 

(by way of warning for sensitive younger readers--some of the adventures and characters are rather horrible--for instance, one character's mouth is sewed shut--memorable, and not gratuitous, but disturbing.  Lots of people and animals die.  Not all books are saved....)

disclaimer: review copy received at ALA.


The Mechanical Mind of John Croggin, by Elinor Teele--blog tour

Welcome to this stop on the blog tour for The Mechanical Mind of John Croggin, by Elinor Teele (Walden Pond Press, April 12, 2016).

This is a great book to offer kids who are fans of quirky characters caught in tensely amusing situations!  John Croggin is basically a slave to his aunt who runs the family coffin making business with an iron hand, and who plans to rope his little sister Page in as well.  His mechanically oriented mind has dreams that reach far beyond coffins.  So one day, when the opportunity comes in the form of a travelling circus, he and Page escape.  The circus offers only a temporary shelter, but a kindly baker offers hope of a more permanent home, until John comes up with a scheme for a chicken-poo powered oven that goes horribly wrong and they must take to the road once more....still hunted by their evil aunt!

Today for my blog tour stop Elinor Teele has provided a Q and A with Maria Persimmons, the kindly baker.  Thanks Elinor!  She's my favorite character.

The owner of the Rise and Shine Bakery, Maria Persimmons is a plump and generous woman who smells – I swear on my honor – exactly like cinnamon. For this interview, I met her after the breakfast rush in her kitchen.

 Q. It’s very good of you to spare me some time.

 A. Come in, come in! Come and be welcome! Oh, did I get flour on your fingers? And your suit? And up your nose? I’m so sorry. I seem to wear gluten like a badge of honor. Here, have a chocolate chip cookie.

Q. Thank you. Holy mother of… these are delicious!

A. Special recipe. A little trick or two that I learned from my Dad.  

Q. Does your father still help with the business?

 A. No, I’m afraid he’s passed away. But he was an engineer by trade, just like my friend John. He loved everything to do with cogs and gears and steam and fire. I still have the boat that he made for my bath. It blows bubbles while it turns dirty scum into building blocks.  

 Q. He sounds like a wonderful man.

A. Oh, he was. Quiet and kind. He was the one who encouraged me to start my own business.

At this juncture, Maria asked if we might continue the interview outside in the chicken coop. She needed to collect eggs from her prize-winning Henrietta hens. 

Q. Did you find baking difficult at the beginning?

A. Of course! Everyone does. Here, would you hold this basket for me? John and Page usually help, but they’re tinkering with a top-secret project. 

Baking is like writing a book – you don’t know what works until you’ve tried it. I spent years experimenting with weird recipes and techniques.

And most of my first creations were terrible. Dense, dull, overworked and underproofed. My attempts at cumin coriander custard went straight into the bin. It took me ten or more years to get a simple brown loaf right. 

Q. But you’re better now?

A. Perhaps, a little. But I’m still mucking up every day.

Please ignore Griselda’s expression. She always looks that way when someone is sticking a hand under her bum.  

Q. You don’t mind mucking up?

A. Oh, I mind! Especially when my customers tell me things taste dreadful. I hate creating work people find disgusting. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t mind.

Q. Yet you still keep at it.

 A. Because I love it. I love the moment when you open the oven door, and the room fills with memory, and you think to yourself: “today, I might have got it right.” I don’t think I’ll ever be a famous chef, but I hope to be a respectable baker.    

Thanks Elinor!

And thanks Walden for the review copy.  Just as a final note, Walden's prepared an Educational Activity Kit for parents and teachers that looks very helpful and interesting in a science meeting writing way, and which does not offer instructions for how to build your own chicken poo oven!

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