My boy turned nine today. This past year he has become a true reader--falling so hard into books that he is deaf to his mother's voice, reading in the car to the point of car sickness, walking to the library by himself and coming home with more books than he can comfortably carry (and not necessarily ones I'd have picked for him--James Watson and the Double Helix, for instance, is probably not going to get read, but if checking it out helps him define himself, more power to him). I was anxious for a while about his reading--he didn't read early, he didn't read books that challenged him, he was essentially unwilling to spread his wings. He still doesn't read long books, although he has the skills to do so, but I've decided to just let him go at his own pace, and to keep lots of easier books on hand for him--the sort of books that I think of as non-quite-middle grade, like Encyclopedia Brown and the A-Z mysteries.
My most recent spectacular book offering success was This Side of Magic, the first volume of a new fantasy series aimed at this reading bracket (May 2009, Tom Doherty Associates (Tor), 133 generously fonted pages). It's written by the same team that brought us the Bailey School Kids (which don't interest my son for reasons unknown to me)--Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones. I brought it home from the bookstore, and a little more than an hour later he had finished it and was clamoring for the next volume (which his grandma got him for an early birthday present a few days later).
I've read it now too, and I was pleasantly surprised by how readable it is for an adult. I'd go as far as to say that I enjoyed it a lot myself. It tells of two ordinary kids, Penny and Luke, who find themselves charged with the awesome responsibility of guarding the border between our realm and the lands of magic. Dark forces are impinging on the border, and only one old man remains of the three former guardians, the Keyholders. Now Penny and Luke are this man's apprentices, with companion fantastical creatures to link them to the magic (a unicorn and a dragon, respectively). Then the third member of their trio is chosen--and much to their dismay, she is a spoiled and unpleasant child they have loathed all their lives. But boggarts are already making themselves felt around the town, and there are worse things to come....
This is similar in feel to the Spiderwick Chronicles, but a few degrees easier (I tried those on my son too, but he only got to halfway through book 3, again for reasons unknown to me). The writing is pleasant, and the story is interesting. I can imagine it being read to bits pretty quickly in a second or third grade classroom. And now I have to go read volume two, The Other Side of Magic. I want to know what happens next (or, of course, I could curl up with James Watson, and learn about DNA...).
Here's my son's very own review, from his blog, Pickled Bananas.