The Ghost of Opalina, or Nine Lives, by Peggy Bacon

The Ghost of Opalina, or Nine Lives, by Peggy Bacon (1967), is an utterly charming cat ghost fantasy story.

It starts in my most favorite way: "Phillip, Ellen, and Jeb Finley lived in the city until young Jeb was five years old. Then their parents bought a house near the village of Heatherfield, and, in late August, they all went to live in the country.

The house was large, rambling, and very old, set down on thick soft lawns like green fur, with wads of moss under the big old trees. There were old barns, old gardens full of box, a lily pool, old-fashioned flowers and shrubs."

I love books about children moving to old houses with lovely gardens, so I was predisposed in the book's favor from the get go.

And then I met Opalina--an cat whose opinion of herself is worthy of an E. Nespit magical creature. She is the ghost of a cat who met an untimely end in the 18th century, and she manifests to the children, who are delighted to make her acquaintance. She regales them with tales of her various lives spent living in the old house, keeping a keen eye on its inhabitants, and haunting when necessary.

The book is episodic, in that each of Opalina's stories is its own self-contained unit of historical fiction, but that being said, the story of the house through time as told to its new inhabitants (who have their own difficulties to face fitting in to their new schools) makes a satisfying whole. Something of the same sort as happens, for instance, in The Sherwood Ring, by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

In addition, I was charmed (unexpectedly, cause often I don't notice these things) by the illustrations (which are the author's own). This one, in particular, tickles me tremendously:

That's Opalina, haunting the dog that killed her in comet-like form.

I highly recommend it to any reader of children's books who is both a cat lover and old house lover! I'm awfully glad it was still in my state's library system (too expensively out of print to buy--$800 on Amazon!), and thank you, those commentors who recommend it to me when I reviewed Caterpillar Hall!

Hilda and the Midnight Giant, by Luke Pearson

Hilda and the Midnight Giant, by Luke Pearson (Nobrow Press, April 17, 2012, ages eight and up, 40 pages) is another fine addition to the growing body of graphic novels with boy appeal that feature a strong girl. Yay!

Hilda and her mother live in an isolated house, high up the in the hills...but it's not as isolated as they seem. Tiny notes have begun appearing, telling them to vacate the premises immediately...and it turns out that their house was built smack dab in the middle of an town of invisible elves!

After filling out the requisite paperwork with the help of a sympathetic elf, Hilda's eyes are opened to the dense settlement around her...but will she be able to convince the elves in power to let her and her mother stay in their home without further trouble?

Complicating things is the mysterious giant who begins to appear outside, keeping a rendezvous agreed on four thousand years ago. Hilda's pluck and determination, and an unintended consequence of the gigantic visitation, bring things to a satisfactory conclusion.

Hilda's is a fantastical world--though the elves might be invisible, other strange beings are not. There's no violent action or stirring adventure--just a journey into the magical shared with the reader, involving a bit of a struggle with elvish bureaucracy, as well as the more tense encounters of with the giant, and the mystery of his purpose. The muted tones of the illustrations (most of the action happens at night) give a dream-like quality to Hilda's encounters with the magic around her.

There's nothing here not suitable for the younger reader, although thematically the upper elementary kid, even on into middle school, might appreciate it more. It captured the interest of my own older reader (and my own interest) just fine (even though I think that Hilda is not drawn as engagingly, as, say, Zita the Space Girl; but then,who is?)

Other thoughts at Jean Little Library, The Comics Journal (although the second page spread shown is from Hildafolk, Luke Pearson's first book, which looks lovely), the Islington Comic Forum ("this is a children's book for children and there's not much to be found within it's pages for anyone over the age of 12. Yeah - that sounds harsh." To which I say, "harsh" isn't how it sounds to me. More like irrelevant.)


Waiting on Wednesday--Freakling, by Lana Krumwiede

Perhaps, like me, you have a twelve-year old boy kicking around the house who is a picky reader of frustrating randomness, and you are always looking for books that might, just possibly, appeal (and books with gears on the cover seem especially hopeful). Perhaps, like me, you like stories in which children are exiled to rural communities for fantastical/science fictional reasons. Perhaps (yes, like me again), you enjoy dystopias, but are tired of the obligatory romance element.

If you answered yes to the above, I am confident that you, like me (last time I'm saying that) will look forward to Freakling, by


Bridge of Time, by Lewis Buzbee, for Timeslip Tuesday

So this morning I had an actual time travel experience--I woke up and it was already eight thirty and we had missed the school bus, but then I really work up and had travelled back in time and it was only quarter to six. Sometimes time travel is a good thing.

For instance, as is the case in Bridge of Time, by Lewis Buzbee (Feiwel & Friends, May 2012, middle grade, 304 pages), time travel may be just what you need to help you cope with your parents' divorce, especially if you get to go hang out with Mark Twain in the past. This is what happens to best friends Joan Lee and Lee Jones. The coincidence of their names is just the tip of the iceberg of their close (non-romantic--they're in middle school still) friendship. And one horrible day another coincidence strikes--both their sets of parents announce they are splitting up.

The next school day just happens to be the class field trip, and Joan and Lee resign themselves to the boredom of yet another trip to the San Fransisco fort they'd seen a bazillion times already. But this time, they find themselves travelling back in time to 1864. Not a good year for being unauthorized visitors in a military fortification. Fortunately, the first person they meet is another person who has come unstuck in time--a friendly man named Sam Clemens (known, in the future, as Mark Twain), who gives them sanctuary.

Unfortunately, even Sam, helpful though he is, can't do anything about the violent racism against the Chinese inhabitants of old San Fransisco, and in fact there are a number of individuals who want to damage Sam in particular for his journalist work in exposing this racism. Joan, being Chinese, is in constant danger...

And on a more personal level, both Joan and Lee are deeply conflicted about going home--neither wants to go back to houses where the word "divorce" is still echoing in the air.

But unless they can fix their minds on sticking back in their own time, they'll be unstuck--passing through a multitude of various San Fransiscos (including a rather exaggeratedly beautiful Native American version). Fortunately, they each get to encounter their older selves, and are comforted thereby. But Sam is another problem--he is busily having a crisis of self-confidence, denying the future he's seen for himself as Mark Twain...

This one falls into two of my roughly delineated time travel categories--the Didactic Experience, and the Mechanism for Personal Growth. At first, what with all the attention paid to "this is San Fransisco in 1864" I found it hard to be deeply involved in the story, and was not sure I liked Joan and Lee (I got tired of the meaningful LOOKS (caps in the original) they kept exchanging). When they unstuck from 1864, the level of excitement picked up as they bounced through time, and the pages turned somewhat faster.

There's some humor, and a bit of mystery (just who is that mysterious man in black, and why is he following Sam around? Why isn't the author making more of him?), and a few mentions of pizza, enough to add a splash of middle grade reader appeal (although, perhaps, not quite enough to carry the book). And it might well resonate deeply with middle grade readers who are themselves feeling unstuck in their lives, particularly those whose parents, like Lee and Joan's, are splitting up.

If I were requiring seventh grade kids to read a historical fiction book, or if I were teaching about racism in the 19th century, I would probably put this one on the reading list. It's also the only time travel book I can think of in with a Chinese American protagonist, and I felt that Joan's experience in the past was nicely done. It's not one, though, that I'd strongly urge adult readers of time slip stories to try--it's just fine, but not desperately magical.

And having typed that, I realize that I have slipped through time again, and it is now almost seven, the bus leaves in 14 minutes, and my child is still asleep. Sigh.


Robotics: Discover the Science and Technology of the Future

Robotics: Discover the Science and Technology of the Future, by Kathy Ceceri (with 20 projects) (Nomad Press, August 2012, 128 pages) is a book that made me want to rip a greeting card apart (I've never gotten to say that before!). The ripping would be to get the little soundy thingy inside it, of course, to use in making my own rolling ball tilt sensor (another thing I never wanted to do before reading this book). And I want to take my sons to the dollar store, to buy small electronic devices to demolish, to the junk store to buy more things to demolish, and perhaps even to the hobby store, to buy things fresh and ready to use...

And the fact that it made me want to do these things is, I think, a testament to the interest in robotics that this book inspires.*

Opening Robotics and beginning to read, I was pretty much a blank slate, much more so than the ten or eleven year old, science-minded kid who is the target audience. I appreciated the introduction to the development of robots, was a tad overwhelmed by the many details in subsequent chapters on the nuts and bolts of robotics--the housing, the actuators, the effectors, the sensors, the controllers--but appreciated the many interesting sidebars (I liked seeing the binary alphabet, for instance). And, social scientist that I am, I loved the last chapter on "AI, Social Robots, and the Future of Robotics."

The projects seem fairly straightforward, and the sort of thing that a good parent would leap to assist the younger child in carrying out. The older child (ie my 12 year old) would probably be assisting me...

In short, this seems to me a pretty excellent next step for the kid whose just dipping their toes in the world of lego robotics, who might want to try their own hand at constructing their own robotic devices.

*Confession: I have never tinkered with anything involving electricity. My mother told me electricity was dangerous, and I, being a Good Child, dutifully feared it, and continue being deeply leery of it (does anyone else imagine house fires starting when electricity from faulty wiring somehow leaks into the walls??? Of course I know it doesn't, but still I look at the old, old walls of my house and wonder...)

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

This post is part of Non-fiction Monday, a recurring event in the Kidlitopshere. The host today is Simply Science.


I've labeled my dragon book posts--and they are few in number. I ask why, and don't come up with an answer.

I just went through all 1927 of my posts to label ones about dragons as "dragons." So if anyone wants some nice dragon books (and there are some good ones!) they can be found. But there are only 33 of them...which seems wrong (on many, many counts), though that being said, some of the posts are lists.

But still, I wonder-- have I been avoiding dragons???? I know I tend to avoid mermaids and vampires and zombies (though there are good books about all three)...but I thought I liked dragons.

This Sunday's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/26/2012)

Good morning, and welcome to another Sunday morning round-up of all the posts I found in my blog reading of interest to fans of middle grade sci fi and fantasy. Please let me know if I missed yours!

Just a reminder-- the deadline for applying for a slot as a Cybils panelist (August 31) fast approaches! Here's what Sheila Ruth, the sci fi/fantasy organizer has to say: "I'm especially in need of people who are passionate and knowledgeable about middle grade for the Middle Grade SFF panel. We always get many more applications for YA SFF than for MG SFF, and while many of the YA applicants say that they'll be happy with middle grade, and I appreciate that, I'd love to fill the middle grade panel with judges who love middle grade and put it as their first choice." But if you are daunted by the number of books that will be getting nominated in mg sff (probably around 150), maybe graphic novels, or book apps, or the non-fiction categories (all of which are in need of panelists) would be a good fit for you.

The Reviews

3 Below (Floors #2), by Patrick Carman, at Sharon the Librarian

Amulet: Prince of Elves, by Kazu Kibuishi, at Wandering Librarians

Annie's Adventures (Sisters Eight) by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, at Read in a Single Sitting

The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy, at Barbara Ann Watson

The Aviary, by Kathleen O’Dell, at Children's Books and Reviews

The Broken Lands, by Kate Milford, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile, The Book Smugglers, and Karissa's Reading Review

Caterpillar Hall, by Anne Barrett, at Charlotte's Library

Cold Cereal, by Adam Rex, at Sonderbooks

Dust Girl, by Sarah Zettel, at Book Nut and The Children's Book Review

The Girl Behind the Glass, by Jane Kelley, at Books and Other Thoughts

Ghost Knight, by Cornelia Funke, at Book Nut

How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell, at Karissa's Reading Review

Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time, by James Dashner, at The New York Times

Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis, at The Book Smugglers

Keeper of the Lost Cities, by Shannon Messenger, at Sash and Em--a Tale of Two Bookies

Kingdom of the Wicked (Skulduggery Pleasant), by Derek Landy, at The Book Zone

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, at ShelfAwarness

Legends of Zita the Space Girl, by Ben Hatke, at Charlotte's Library

The Lost Colony, by Eoin Colfer, at Fyrefly's Book Blog

The Mapmaker and the Ghost, by Sarvenaz Tash, at Geo Librarian

Muddle and Win, by John Dickinson, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, at Sonderbooks, the bookish mama, Squeaky Books, and Cracking the Cover

The Raging Fires, by T.A. Barron, at Fantasy Literature

The Scorpions of Zahir, by Christine Brodien-Jones, at Charlotte's Library

The Seventh Tower: The Fall, by Garth Nix, at Val Muller

Small Medium at Large, by Joanne Levy, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schiltz, at Charlotte's Library

The Time-Travelling Fashionista, by Bianca Turetsky, at Madigan Reads

Tuesdays at the Castle, by Jessica Day George, at Books & Other Thoughts

The Unwanteds: Island of Silence, by Lisa McMann, at Shannon Messenger

The WondLa series, by Tony DiTerlizzi, at The Write Path

A two for one, at Ms. Yingling Reads Alex Van Helsing: The Triumph of Death, by Jason Henderson, and Zombie Tag, by Hannah Moskovitz

Writers, Illustrators, Interviews

Shaun Tan on his picture book,The Red Tree, at Books for Keeps--"The absurd surrealism of the giant fish hopefully discourages any rational assessment...." (some of us need little help in this regard...)

Shannon Hale (Palace of Stone) at Cracking the Cover and Squeaky Books

Morgan Keyes (Darkbeast) at Blogging for YA

Nikki Loftin )The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy) at The Book Cellar and at The Enchanted Inkpot.

Royce Buckingham (The Demonkeeper series) at A Thousand Wrongs and Literary Rambles (giveaway)

Stefan Bachmann (The Peculiar) at Smack Dab in the Middle

Other Good Stuff

The Enchanted Inkpot has a two part series (here and here) showcasing fall mg sff book covers--much to drool over (not that one should ever drool over books, at least in real life. They might get damaged).

Leslie Wilson talks about "The Bremen Town Musicians" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

For those looking for fairy tale retellings with boy appeal, here's a great list at BellaOnBooks

And in the so awful its great (?) category, check out this faux 1980s cartoon -- "Space Stallions" over at Tor. Will Mother Mustang help our heroes save the multiverse?


The Scorpions of Zahir, by Christine Brodien-Jones

The Scorpions of Zahir, by Christine Brodien-Jones (Delacorte, July 2012, middle grade)

Eleven year old Zagora Pym is named for a town in Morocco...and dreams of one day following in the footsteps of her epigrapher father, travelling across the desert and making great archaeological discoveries. When a letter arrives from a famous archaeologist with whom her father used to work, a man believed to have died in the desert, Zagora's chance arrives. Her destination--the lost city of Zahir, abandoned and overrun by scorpions centuries ago, when a thief stole the fabulous Oryx stone from its blue pyramid.

Though her older brother Duncan (a chubby computer geek for whom Zagora has little use) is reluctant, Zagora is thrilled to be part of her father's journey to the lost city. But there is much danger waiting in Morocco. Zagora's father has the lost Oryx stone in his possession--and there are people who would kill for it. More catastrophic danger also looms (literally) large in the sky. The theft of the stone triggered a change in the orbit of a rouge planet, and it's now heading straight for earth. Then there are the prosaic, but very real, dangers of crossing the desert. And finally, once Zahir is reached, there's the little problem (not) of giant, mutant scorpions.

Exciting sounding, yes? And it is, although I must say that it requires a tremendous suspension of disbelief, both in terms of the practicalities (why the heck is Zagora's father taking them on a poorly planned desert crossing to begin with?), and in terms of the story--the rouge planet was a hard one for me to accept. I think that this issue of belief might well prove prohibitive for the older reader (it did for me), though the target audience of younger readers will doubtless be more accepting.

Slightly more problematic to me was a creeping element of the "white saviour" trope, in which outsiders to the indigenous culture come and save the day. Zagora happens to be gifted with desert sight (she sees ghosts of oryxes past), and ends up having the lead role to play in the predestined return of the stone. A tribal girl gets to help. More prosaically, her father has to translate the scared glyphs of the lost tribe of wise desert sages to them, because they have forgotten how to interpret them themselves.

Zagora, however, should appeal to adventure-loving girls, who might well enjoy her fantastical desert adventures. Anyone who is bothered by scorpions, however, should be warned--there are many of them. And they are very big.

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publicist.


Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke (First Second, September 4, 2012, ages 8 and up) is the sequel to the utterly charming Zita the Spacegirl (my review), which won the Cybils Award for younger Graphic Novel last year.

If you want your boys to read books about girls, girls who are brave, and determined, and basically people with feelings (as opposed to aliens with cooties), you can't really go wrong with the growing number of great graphic novels out there with that type of girl front and center. And at the top of the list (along with Giants Beware!) is Zita the Spacegirl. The charm with which she is drawn, the science fictional adventures in which she is a reluctant but capable participant, and the engaging supporting cast of aliens, makes this a winner for readers of any gender.

In this second story, Zita finds that she has become a hero. Pestered by fans, she is at first relieved when a robot, determined to impersonate her, shows up. But the robot is too eager to take Zita's places, and blasts off on an interstellar rescue mission--leaving Zita and her friend, Mouse, marooned.

Help comes along in the form of an intergalactic circus, and soon Zita and Mouse are on their way to face an alien danger of epic proportions. But the path that they've taken has brought them afoul of the law, and the police are chasing them across the galaxy...defeating the alien danger requires a terrible sacrifice...and what Zita really wants is to go home to her family again.

And then there's a cliffhanger. Argh! The alien danger part is resolved, but that's it. So me and my boys will have to wait eagerly for Zita Three to come out. Sigh.

But in any event, Hatke's wild and wacky illustrations--detailed yet not overwhelming--make me smile while reading, I love Zita, both as a drawing and a person, and I can't wait to see what happens next! (And this is partly because Piper, who those of you who read book 1 will remember, now has some backstory. With romance. I do like romantic backstory...Also there is now a cat. I like cats. I like Mouse too, but cats more.).

A generous preview is available here at the publishers.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher, and read instantly.


Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick, August 28, 2012, middle grade)

In late 19th century London, a lonely rich girl named Clara Wintermute begs her father to let her have a puppet show for her birthday. For years, her birthday's have been full of Gothic horror--the only surviving child of a once substantial family, her grief-crazed mother carefully gives her gifts from all her dead siblings, and they spend a happy time at the mausoleum visiting them. But this year she begs for the puppets. She had stolen a glimpse of Gaspare Grisini's masterful marionette performance on the street, but even more than the show itself (remarkable though it was), it was her brief encounter with the red haired girl who was one of the trio of puppeteers that entranced her. And her father obliges.

That red-haird girl is Lizzie Rose, orphaned daughter of an actor. She and a former street urchin, a younger boy named Parsifal, have toiled for Gaspare (a cruel and miserly master) for years, making theatrical magic. He loves the puppets; she loves him like a sister. And lonely Clara wants to be their friend.

But Clara vanishes the night after her birthday performance, and suspicion falls on Gaspare (rightly so). Gaspare disappears from London, and Lizzie and Parse must fend for themselves. They have found Clara, but cannot save her--there is dark and creepy magic involved--Gaspare was much more than a master of puppets. When a letter arrives inviting them to a mysterious mansion in the north of England, they accept this somewhat dubious refuge--only to find that they are now part of an even larger story, filled with even more deadly magic. For the mansion is home to a dying witch, desperate to rid herself of a curse...and the three children are now players in an story that began long before they were born.

It is a gripping read, very nicely told indeed, I thought. I was fascinated by the characters and their situations -- there's not much Action and Adventure here (although there is some). Rather, the focus of the book is on whether the children will survive, on a day to day level, the vicissitudes of poverty (for Lizzie and Parse in the beginning), a truly dysfunctional, though wealthy life (for Clara), and then whether they will survive enchantment and life-threatening magical plots.

As an adult reader, I enjoyed it. I appreciated the rich characterization of the three children, the details of the historical setting, the descriptions of the marionettes, and the spooky old house full of ancient magic. The Villain is Villainous, Lizzie Rose in particular is heroic, and there is lots of poignant back story to make it all nicely three dimensional. So it's one I'd recommend to adult readers of children's historical fantasy with no hestitation.

However, I do wonder about its child reader appeal --are there many young readers of darkly magical historical fiction that isn't steampunkish? If you know such a reader, give them this one.

The UK title of this one is Fire Spell, and that's the cover on the right. I think it has more young reader appeal, because it is much prettier and promises more magic.

Splendors and Glooms is definitely on the upper end of the middle grade age range, because of the manner of its telling--it's a book that takes reading, rather than light zipping. What happens to Clara is rather disturbing, but not made horrible by writerly twisting of psychological screws, so that shouldn't be a problem (not like The Toymaker, by Jeremy de Quidt (my review), which has some similarities and which bothered the pants off me).


Caterpillar Hall, by Anne Barrett, for Timeslip Tuesday

Back in the spring, a friend of mine reviewed Caterpillar Hall, by Anne Barrett (1950) on her blog, Staircase Wit, and I was intrigued as all get out. Kindly, she made a copy for me...and I have now read it, with great enjoyment.

Penelope lives a lonely life in London, cared for by her governess, Miss Pink, and her distant uncle, while her father is off in Persia trying to restore the family fortunes enough so that they can move back to their ancestral home (pause while I look up Persia, to see when it became Iran--1935. The book is set a few years after WW II, so I guess it's ok for a girl of that time to still say "Persia."). One day her father (who seems to be having some success) sends Penelope five whole pounds to spend as she pleases, and Penelope decides on an umbrella. Not a dull black one, but a lovely one, to be used in all the imaginative ways one might need shelter--a tent roof, a palmy oasis, a parachute....

And so Miss Pink, after some protestation, takes Penelope umbrella shopping. And Penelope comes home with a beautiful parrot handled umbrella....

On her first outing with her new friend, a gust of wind hurtles him up and into a walled garden. Penelope of course hurries after....and finds herself in the garden of a bombed house. All that remains is the glass vestibule, that once reached from the door to the street, like a glass caterpillar. But someone is living there in "Caterpillar Hall"--a lovely young lady, who becomes Penelope's dear friend. She tells Penelope that her umbrella is magic, an indeed it is.

The magic takes Penelope as a spectator back in time, watching the moments in the lives of those around her--Miss Pink, her uncle, and the older couple that look after the house--when they too were young, wishing for something as much as Penelope had wished for her own umbrella. It's a very passive type of time travel, but just gorgeously generous in its visual descriptions, and emotionally pleasing, in that Penelope learns to see the adults around her as three dimensional people, with dreams of their own. They want small things, for the most part--a beautiful hat, a ship in a bottle, a copper kettle, but there's one thing that's very large indeed.

And so, with what is left from her five pounds, and the help of her new friend, Penelope sets out to find them what they want.

This is pretty much a perfect Charlotte book. I would have swooned with adoration for it as an eight year old, and managed to love it even as a hardened adult. It has:

--beautiful descriptions of lovely things and places
--an engaging young heroine, with whom I would like to play
--enough time travel magic to be interesting, without being stressful
--a very happy ending

Utterly charming. My only regret is that it is out of print and expensive, so probably you won't be able to read it...


This Sunday's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/19/2012)

Here's what I learned this week: wall paper is not easier than plastering and painting. Unless your house is new. This is why I am late getting this up.

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week--please let me know if I missed your post or the posts of your loved ones!

The Reviews:

Beswitched, by Kate Saunders, at Fantastic Reads

The Brixen Witch, by Stacy DeKeyser, at Charlotte's Library

The Cabinet of Earths, by Anne Nesbet, at A Thousand Wrongs

Claws, by Mike and Rachel Grinti, at Charlotte's Library

Deadweather and Sunrise (The Chronicles of Egg, book 1), by Geoff Rodkey, at Mister K Reads

The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire, book 1) by Tui T. Sutherland, at Charlotte's Library

Earwig and the Witch, by Diana Wynne Jones, at library_mama

Gods and Warriors, by Michelle Paiva, at The Book Smugglers

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, by Christopher Healy, at Sonderbooks

Invisible Fiends: The Beast, by Barry Hutchison, at Bart's Bookshelf

The Lost Conspiracy aka Gullstruck Island, by Frances Hardinge, at The Book Smugglers

Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, at Random Musings of a Bibliophile, Reading Everywhere, A Patchwork of Books, Ms. Yingling Reads (and probably lots of other blogs, but time is too short for me to look for them today....)

Project Jackalope, by Emily Ecton, at Charlotte's Library

The Second Spy (Chronicles of Elsewhere, 3), by Jacqueline West, at Beyond Books

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz, at Confessions of a Bibliovore and Gina Carey

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brockett, by John Boyne, at So Many Books, So Little Time

The Wednesdays, by Julie Bourbeau, at My Precious

The Wishing Spell, by Chris Colfer, at Beyond Books

Authors and Interviews

Alan Garner at The Guardian (including his hilarious first attempt to end The Moon of Gomrath!)

Greg Leitich Smith (Chronal Engine) at From the Mixed-Up Files (giveaway)

Margaret Peterson Haddix at Cynsations (giveaway)

Other Good Things:

A plethora of Peter Pans, at Read in a Single Sitting

Juliet Marillier talks Beauty and the Beast, at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

Because I love Zita the Space Girl, I'm passing on this Jolly Raffle link.

A fascinating interview with an Andre Norton Award Juror, at the Intergalactic Academy -- do read it!


The Brixen Witch, by Stacy DeKeyser

The Brixen Witch, by Stacy DeKeyser (Margaret K. McElderry Books, June 26, 2012, middle grade) is a fresh and fun re-telling of the story of the Pied Piper, told from the point of view of the one boy who was not ensnared by the spell of the music that lured the other village children into a mysterious cave.

Rudi, and all the other villagers of Brixen, have known all their lives that the mountain looming above them is home to a fearful witch of great power. But Rudi is one of the few who has a chance to learn of her power directly. When he brings home a golden coin he found in the high meadow, his grandmother warns him to return it to the witch immediately--or else he will feel her wrath. So the next day he tries to take it back, but it is lost in a rockslide.

All that winter Rudi is haunted by nightmares...and then spring bring brings trouble to the whole village. A plague of rats destroys the peace and prosperity of the village, and the price the mysterious stranger charges to solve the problem is one golden coin (undreamed of wealth to the villagers).

It's clear to Rudi and his grandmother that this stranger is in league with the witch, and that Rudi must find the lost coin. But the deadline passes before he, and the music of the stranger's violin lures all the village children up and away, into the mountain.

To save them, Rudi must confront the Brixen Witch...and he finds that witches are not always what they seem to be....

This is a satisfying re-telling, adding new twists to an old story to make a seemless whole. The magic of the witch is clearly present from the beginning, though the quotidian details of village life, and mundane attempts to kill rats (which I confess was one of my favorite parts of the book--I now know lots more about historic rat hunting, and found it interesting! plus bonus ferrets!), give a solid grounding to the story. The thought-provoking twist at the end, when Rudi meets the witch, lifts the story to the truly magical.

The straight-forward storytelling, and focus on Rudi, an ordinary boy forced to step outside the safe world of childhood, makes this an excellent choice for younger "middle grade" kids, of nine or ten. It's not one for the reader who wants wild and whacky magic with Slayings and Spells and a kid who has great powers (that kid might find this one slow), but more for the kid who likes fantasy stories that one could imagine really happening.

If I were a fourth or fifth grade teacher, doing a unit on fairy tale retellings, this is one I'd most definitely be offering those kids (boys or girls) who aren't drawn to pretty dresses (and who like ferrets, though they don't actually get that much page time)! And I'd be pretty stuck to think of any others--perhaps The Book of Wonders, by Jasmine Richards, and the Sisters Grimm series. (Can you think of any other boy-friendly fairy tale retellings?)

So all in all, a nice read for me as a grown up, and one that I think fills in fine style a pretty empty niche for the target audience.

disclaimer: review copy gratefully received from the author.


The books my husband got for his birthday

I do birthday book posts for my two sons, and, having just watched my husband unwrap his five presents from me, all of which were books, I thought it would be fun to do the same for him! So here's what he got, and why:

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi. He likes intelligent speculative fiction for grown-ups, and I liked Bacigalupi's YA books, so this is a good one for both of us to read.

Ditto The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. An added incentive for this one was my husband's interest in WW I.

He just read and loved In the Woods, by Tana French, so I ran out today and got him the second book in the series--The Likeness. I'm not sure I'm ever going to read these myself--they seem a bit dark for me (I don't like books where children get killed), so this was a purely unselfish purchase, and he is reading it even as I type, which is gratifying.

Likewise I won't be curling up with Titus Awakes, the fourth Gormenghast book finished by Mervyn Peake's wife, Maeve Gilmore. I wasn't able to go on past the first book--it was all too miserable.

And his final book was another all for him--an impulse purchase of a version of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Since he likes both Alice and Japan, it seemed a safe bet, and he did seem pleased!

(which one would you like most to get as a present?)

And tomorrow he will get the best gift of all--six rolls of lining paper, because we have decided to Make Our Marriage Stronger (ha ha ha) and wallpaper the dining room ourselves.

Wings of Fire #1: The Dragonet Prophecy, by Tui T. Sutherland

Wings of Fire #1: The Dragonet Prophecy, by Tui T. Sutherland (Scholastic, July 1, 2012, ages 8 and up) , is a winner. If you have a fourth grader who's read these series--Warriors, the Guardians of Ga'hoole, and How To Train Your Dragon--and who is casting around for a new book, this is the book you should give him or her. It is a must-have for the fourth grade library (which I don't think I've ever said about a book before) and I enjoyed it rather a lot myself!

Five dragonets, each from different tribe of dragons, were taken from their homes before they even hatched, and raised in hidden cave, knowing only each other and the cold dragon guardians who watched their every move. They were raised to be the dragonets prophesied to end a terrible and bloody conflict that was tearing apart the seven tribes (Sandwings,Mudwings, Skywings, Seawings,etc.)...but the Talons of Peace, the dragons who are raising them, are afraid that they've failed to meet the terms of the prophecy. Instead of a Skywing, they ended up with a Rainwing--a tribe of dragons sneered at for being lazy and useless.

And so the guardians plan to dispose of Glory, the little Rainwing.

But the five dragonets are a team, and when they hear that Glory might be killed, they plan a daring escape. Each has their own strengths, and their own weaknesses, and none has ever been outside before. Almost immediately, they are captured by the evil Queen of the Skywings, whose greatest joy is to pit dragon against dragon in her arena of death....There the Skywing champion, barely more than a dragonet herself, defeats all comers. But the Dragonets of the Prophecy are different from other dragons--they are not bound by loyalty to their own tribes, but too each other. And that loyalty will save them....

Told from the point of view of Clay, a Mudwing, it's story of friendship, impossible expectations, and a world at war.

I sincerely enjoyed this one! I must confess I was doubtful at first, a bit condescending even, but once the dragonets had escaped from their cave, it was a page-turner! It helped that the various dragons were sufficiently characterized to be interesting, and that the world building of all the different kinds of dragons was fascinating. It helped even more so that the fights to the death in the Skywing arena weren't sugar-coated, but deadly serious, and that the Skywings champion was a surprisingly sympathetic character. It also helped that I, in general, am a fan of plucky orphans with interesting skills raised in miserable circumstances but making good, and as these dragonets are de facto orphans, they fit the bill nicely.

But even beyond those details of story, what pleased even cynical me most was that there were themes here that I was happy to have my son think about--loyalty to friends transcending blind loyalty to tribe, the need to empathize with other points of view, the need to try your best to shape your own destiny, and not be someone's tool, and the senselessness of war.

The sensitive young reader might be troubled by some of the violence--dragons really do kill other dragons. But no beloved characters die, so it's not too upsetting. It's very much in the child mindset, though--the main character, Clay the Mudwing, really wants to find his own mama....

My son has already started passing the ARC I got around to his friends, and you can bet that when the sequel comes out next January, we'll be there at the bookstore. Its kid appeal is greatly enhanced by the guide to all the different types of dragon, with appealing illustrations and nicely organized information.

Note to the author: this is a series that absolutely cries out for a website, with all the information about the different types of dragon expanded, and legends of the different dragon tribes, and little stories about the characters when they were babies, and printable pictures of the dragons etc. I looked for such a website, but didn't find it--please let me know if I missed it!

Here's another review, at SciFi Chick.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.



The 2012 call for Cybils judges has gone out! So exciting!

I applied, for (no surprise) Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy! I have done it a few years now (because sometimes people who've done it before are useful), and would be very happy and honored if I were to be chosen again.

And I urge you to apply in mg sff too. YA sff gets more applicants, but their books aren't as fun. And they are longer. And there are more of them. (Which almost makes me want to apply in YA, just for the challenge of it....)

There is a lot of reading (maybe 150 books will be nominated in mg sff, based on past years), but you don't actually HAVE to read them all, and you've probably read quite a few of them already. And there are lots more you want to read anyway...It is also the best way I know of to make blogging friends.

So go for it. And let me know if you have any questions about what it's like!

Waiting on Wednesday--The Cup and the Crown, by Diane Stanley

I was rather thrilled to find that a sequel to The Silver Bowl (my review) is on its way!

The Cup and the Crown, by Diane Stanely, comes out October 2nd, from HarperCollins (ages 8-12). (I find it somewhat interesting that the publisher has notched the reader age downward. The Silver Bowl read younger to me than the publisher's recommendation, which I think at the time was YA. I see looking at Amazon today that it's now given as 10 and up,which I think is just about right. 8 seems a little young...).

"In this thrilling sequel to The Silver Bowl, Molly's quest for a magical loving cup leads her to the mysterious-and dangerous-town of her ancestors.

Night after night, Molly has visions of a beautiful goblet: one of her grandfather's loving cups, which he filled with magic that bound people together. So it hardly surprises Molly when handsome King Alaric asks her to find a loving cup to help him win the heart of the beautiful Princess of Cortova.

As Molly and her friends Winifred and Tobias journey in search of a loving cup, a mysterious raven joins their quest and appears to guide them all the way to the hidden city of Harrowsgode. There Molly discovers secrets about her own family as well as the magic of the loving cup. But Harrowsgode is hidden for a reason, and leaving is more difficult than Molly imagined. Will she be able to escape, let alone bring a loving cup to King Alaric?

The Cup and the Crown returns readers to the captivating world of The Silver Bowl and to the unique and intriguing magic that surrounds Molly."

The working title was "The Raven of Harrowsgode," which a fine title, but I think "The Cup and the Crown" ties it more nicely with "The Silver Bowl."

(The raven on the cover looks a bit like a vulture to me (just saying). I am sending the image to my bird expert mother to see what she thinks...)

Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.


Project Jackalope, by Emily Ecton

Some time back, when the latest discussion of ARCs and Bloggers and Publishers was going strong, I found myself musing about whether or not my blog was Useful. One of the commenters was Emily Ecton (most recently author of Project Jackalope), who said "your blog was on the list I sent my publisher when they asked where I wanted review copies sent." Now, I never did get copy from the publisher (which is fine; their choice), but I started wondering if authors were told who did get copies in the end, and if this kind blog reading author was sad that I had never reviewed her book. (Do authors get told? I'm curious).

So I got a hold of a copy (having enjoyed her other books), and proceeded to read, and that being said, of course my understandably friendly feelings in no way have swayed what I'm writing. I would never write a positive review of even my own dear children's books if they weren't good books (which they aren't, quite, yet).

So, with no further ado, Project Jackalope (Chronicle Books, March 2012, middle grade).

Here is the blurb from Amazon (which I am using because of Time Constraints): "Jeremy's troubles begin when his eccentric neighbor leaves him an "experiment" for safekeeping—a jackalope! This so-called mythological creature looks like a bunny rabbit, but comes with razor-sharp antlers and is purported to be a ruthless killer. When government agents show up at Jeremy's house seeking the jackalope for their own nefarious purposes, Jeremy must find a way to protect the jackalope, and himself. So he reluctantly joins forces with Agatha, his holier-than-thou genius neighbor. Together, with the jackalope (and his weapons-grade antlers) tucked away in a backpack, they have only one chance to save Jack and still get their science fair projects in on time. With her striking sense of humor, Emily Ecton has created a hilarious and suspenseful adventure, complete with a compelling and unforgettable cast of characters."

Now Project Jackalopeis not my own most favoritist type of book. But I agree strongly with that last sentence of the blurb on Amazon. This is a book that will appeal Very Much Indeed to those young readers who enjoy the kind of madcap and desperate mayhem that ensues when, as is the case here, two kids are running for their lives with a potentially killer jackalope in a Dora the Explorer suitcase, while Sinister Enemies pursue them.

Jeremy and Agatha are both appealing characters, the action is vivid, and the jackalope incredibly intriguing, what with its penchant for hard liquor, melting bunny eyes, and the fact that it could burst out of the suitcase with murderous intent at any minute.

But what I liked best was the science geekiness that underlies the whole book, and surfaces in delightful bursts from time to time. The whole premise is that the creation of hybrid animals is a scientific possibility, and Agatha, friendless, geeky, wearer of a despised squirrel applique sweater, is a middle school kid with the mental where with all to do it (Jeremy's role is compassionate animal loving jackalope saviour). And at the end of the book, when it was revealed that DARPA was a real government agency (!) I was thrilled.

It's funny, but not at all condescending--I got the sense, as one does with, say, the books of Adam Rex, that Emily Ecton was enjoying the writing of it very much indeed. And now, thanks to her blog comment, I shall pass on Project Jackalope to my local library, and finally her book will be in the Rhode Island library system where it should entertain its target audience very nicely indeed.

(Oh. Another library has gotten hold of a copy since I checked last. Oh well, I'm sure there's room for two...that copy is already checked out.)

Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague De Camp

I have on hand two perfectly good 2012 Time Travel stories, one middle grade and one YA, and, given the focus of my blog, I should probably be reviewing one of them today. But instead, I offer an Old Chestnut for grown-ups --Lest Darkness Fall, by L. Sprague De Camp (1939), an impulse check out from the library that is now hideously overdue.

In much the same vein as A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Lest Darkness Fall tells of an American archaeologist from the 20th century who finds himself back in 6th century Rome. Fortunately for Martin Padway's peace of mind, a colleague has just explained all about time travel--how the time traveller will not alter history, but will, instead, create a new alternative. So Padway sets to with a will, creating a version of history where the Dark Ages are averted. Not from altruistic reasons, but simply to make the the past a more pleasant place for a modern person like himself to live in.

Combining new technology with his knowledge of the past, and considerable luck in his dealings with the Natives, Padway sets Gothic Italy on a course for early enlightenment. And it makes for entertaining reading. It's written in a light style, not going to deeply into emotions, or serious contemplation of anything. I enjoyed very much seeing how his interventions changed things, learning about a time and place I had only a cursory knowledge of, and appreciating Padway's reactions to it all.

Except. The author manages to be offensive en passant to Africans, Women, Muslims, and (probably) some Christians. Sheesh. It is a shame, because it really was interesting as all get out. Because of this sense I got that it's a book by a white dude for white dudes untrammelled by consideration for people who aren't white dudes, it's not one I'll re-read. (But I'm not sorry I read it, because when I wasn't being bothered, I did enjoy it).

(A minor problem that I had with the book, that it's original readers would not have had, is that I kept mis-reading Padway as Padme, which flavored my reading in disconcerting way. I do not blame the author for this.)


Claws, by Mike and Rachel Grinti

There are hundreds of YA books that tell of the Girl and the Fey/Angel/Demon/Vampire/Whatever Dude who fall in love. They are written for teenagers, and there is often Smoldering.

Claws, by Mike and Rachel Grinti (Chicken House, Sept. 1, 2012), is not one of those stories. Rather, it's a story for girls who still love their cats more than any boy, girls for whom Smoldering is few years away. Emma, the central character, is the little sister; it is her older sister, Helena, who's gone missing into a world that has been over-run with magical and mythological creatures. And Emma's parents have spent everything to find Helena, and so now they must live in a dingy trailer park, right on the line between human folk and magical.

Emma's new neighbors include a hag and a coatl (a serpent/human cross)...and a black cat who had been using her new room as his own. He's a cat who's lost all his magic...but he can help Emma take advantage of a treasure trove of cat magic that will not only give her the power to transform herself, but to draw a whole pride of magical cats into her quest through a land full of strange and often hostile creatures.

But now that Emma has enough power (perhaps) to save her sister, what will she do if her sister doesn't want to be saved?

Give this one to the eleven or twelve year old girl who loved the Warriors series who is only just starting to look with interest at the YA Paranormal Fantasy scene. It is a sure winner for that girl. It is also quite possible that a boy in similar circs. would be interested, as neither the story or the central characters are boy-unwelcoming. Emma isn't a girly girl, she's not thinking about boys or make up--she's just exploring new powers, meeting strange creatures, and saving her sister. Likewise the cover is nicely gender neutral.  Still I just can't help but feel that "adolescent cat-loving girls who are readers of fantasy" are, in this case, the quintessentially perfect audience.

(And following on from that thought, this isn't one that I personally as an adult reader took my heart. It didn't quite have the subtlety/emotional tension/shear wonder that makes a mg fantasy book appealing to grown-ups).

Bonus for those looking for diversity in mg fiction: Emma's parents are Vietnamese. It is a fact of her life, not an Issue; it's firmly there in the background as part of who she is. (And I just realized that this is the one hundredth multicultural sci fi/fantasy book for my list! Must add more.)

Here's another review at Ms. Yingling Reads

And here's a picture of our own little black kitten, who goes very nicely with the book:

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This Sunday's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/12/2012)

So just in case you are visiting one of these round-ups for the first time--a few years ago I was wishing that it was easier to find reviews of middle grade sci fi and fantasy books--there are lots of blogs where you can reliably find the YA side of things, but not so much for the younger books. So I started doing it myself.

I exercise some discretion in what I include--a post that's too short, or too purly promotional, probably won't make my personal cut. I'm happy to take links to posts at any time during the week (of posts from that week only, of course--not old reviews). My email is charlotteslibrary at gmail dot com. Thanks!

The Reviews

13 Treasures, by Michelle Harrison, at Read in a Single Sitting

The Atlantis Complex (Artemis Fowl, 7), by Eoin Colfer, at Fantasy's Ink

The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To, by D.C. Pierson, at Original Content

Earthling! by Mark Fearing, at Stacked

The Ghost of Graylock, by Dan Pobloki, at Charlotte's Library

Goblin Secrets, by William Alexander, at Black Gate

Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins, at Story Carnivores

The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley, at Stella Matutina

Liesl and Po, by Lauren Oliver, at The Accidental Novelist and at Cardigans, Coffee, and Bookmarks

Merits of Mischief: The Bad Apple, by T.R. Burns, at Angelhorn

Monster Matsuri (Takeshita Demons 3), by Cristy Burne, at Charlotte's Library

Oddfellows Orphanage, by Emily Winfield Martin, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, at One Librarian's Book Reviews and Emily's Reading Room

The Serpent's Shadow, by Rick Riordan, at Boys Rule Boys Read!

The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, by Nikki Loftin, at YA reads

The Six Crowns series, by Allan Jones and Gary Chalk, at books4yourkids

The Star Shard, by Frederick S. Durbin, at Fantasy Literature

Stig of the Dump, by Clive King, at Charlotte's Library

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brockett, by John Boyne, at Babbleabout children's books

Tools of Prophecy, by Michael E. Rothman, at Books Are Magic

Troubletwisters, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams, at Bibliophile Support Group

Unearthly Asylum, by PJ Bracegirdle, at Read in a Single Sitting

Authors and Interviews

Suzanne Williams (Heros in Training) at Cynsations

Braden Bell (The Kindling) at A Thousand Wrongs

Derek the Ghost (Scary School) at Nawanda Files

"How we made A Monser Calls" by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay, at The Guardian

Other Good Stuff

K is for Kelpie, by Holly Black, at Scribble City Central

I can't help but feel a tad sorry for McKayla, but still I chuckled--here she is not being impressed with sci fi at Tor.

Monica at Educating Alice caught a Guardian article I'd missed--Jacqueline Wilson is writing a modern-day sequel to Five Children and It, called Four Children and It. Since it will obviously be impossible to preserve the flavour of the Edwardian original (it was published in 1902), I'm thinking I'll try to take it on its own merits as a contemporary fantasy...like I did for The Humming Room.
Publish Post

And finally--The Cybils are coming to life once more. Things aren't going to really get going till next month, but it's still exciting to see the 2012 logo!
For those of you who don't know what the Cybils are--these are awards are given each year by bloggers for the year's best children's and young adult titles in a variety of categories, including middle grade sci fi and fantasy! The shortlists generated each year, by the way, are an awesome resource.

All bloggers can put their name forward to be on one of the panels--and so I am mentioning this now because all of you whose posts show up here on a regular basis would make swell panelists in MG Sci Fi/Fantasy, and I'd urge you to start thinking about it. I've been a first round panelist several times, and loved it. Do feel free to email me if you have any questions about what it's like...


Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (Random House, July 2012, YA) has been getting nothing but the best reviews among the bloggers I read regularly (at least I assume so--I haven't actually read the reviews (cause of not wanting spoilers), but words like "loved" and "enjoyed" are easy to spot without reading).

So my expectations were high as I entered this alternate-European city, where humans and dragons lived side by side in an uneasy truce, and a girl named Seraphina made music.

Here is how I reacted:

First hundred pages: I am not sure I am liking it all that much. Seraphina is glum. Things are not cheerful. There is no brightness. There seems to be lots of exposition. I am not sure what this story is actually about. However: music = good, lots of interestings saints = good, interesting dragons = very good.

Next fifty (or so pages): fascinating, but am still uncertain. Seraphina still unhappy. Not sure I like her. Unhappy feelings all around. Am anxious. But curious.

Remainder of book: Wow, this is great! Happy (though complex) male main character! Seraphina not so unhappy! She has friends! Interesting world building, political machinations, and mystery--but what's really important is that there is now good reason to hope that Seraphina won't be sad and lonely forever.

Clearly I was Weak Minded and In Need of Comfort Reading last week (some weeks I am stronger, and curl up happily with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, or some such). But still, the point remains valid. Seraphina (the book) is not giddy, light fun. Seraphina the girl isn't either; she's described as prickly. And this came across to me too, as well as to the other characters--she's hard to like at first, very much preoccupied with her own self, very reluctant to show warmth. But both book (as the perspective of the story become broader, and new characters were introduced) and girl (as she became a more active player in her own life, kind of surprising herself in the process) grew on me, until by the end I was just racing along happily, caught up in just the sort of lovely fiction-rush that I was hoping for.

One last bit of quibble-- the ease which which one major issue became a non-issue was a bit of a cop out. I was expecting more intelligently written complexity from Hartman here...and didn't get it.

Here's a fascinating interview about Seraphina's path to publication at a daydreamer's thoughts, where I saw this alternate cover (edited to add, thanks to commenter Laviania--it's the UK cover)...I think the black and white one is much truer to the feel of the book, and to Seraphina's own character, and much more distinctive! Although I do like the nuance of Seraphina's face becoming the second dragon eye.

And (again edited to add) there's definitly a sequel coming--from Rachel Hartman's blog yesterday "I have a few nearly-empty weeks to work on my sequel revisions." Which is very encouraging, revisions being so much closer to done than writing!


The Ghost of Graylock, by Dan Poblocki

The Ghost of Graylock, by Dan Poblocki (Scholastic, August 1, 2012, ages 10 and up) is a top notch ghost/mystery story for kids.

Twelve year old Neil and his sixteen year old sister Bree have been sent, all unwilling, to stay with their aunts for the summer in upstate New York. Their father has taken off to pursue a dream of acting, and their mother has fallen into deep depression. And so Neil finds himself at loose ends, with nothing to do but worry at his mother's retreat into dark absence.

But this small town of Hedston has a dark secret. Off in the woods lurks Graylock Hall, an old, abandoned insane asylum for children...and there, the stories go, Nurse Janet murdered three of her charges, drowning them in the weed-filled lake. With two local boys, Neil and Bree set off the explore the asylum...where Nurse Janet's ghost supposedly still walks.

And indeed, there is a ghost. One who torments Neil and Bree with nightmares and horrible visitations, one who won't rest until they can figure out just what she wants. And as the haunting grows in intensity, so does the danger Neil and Bree are in...

Graylock is as a creepy an asylum as I've ever encountered in a children's book--not because there are grotesque manifestations of a blatant and yucky kind, but because of the disturbing descriptions of the place itself, with many moments of jump-inducing suspense that fill Poblocki's account of the kids' exploration. It's not subtle, perhaps (fallen dolls, for instance, are described as "lying like corpses at a murder scene" on page 28), but it's vivid as all get out! And when the ghostly haunting really gets going, it becomes a truly edge-of-the-seat read.

It's not just a ghost story, but a family one as well. The supernatural terror is heightened emotionally by Neil's fears for his own mother's sanity, and what the future might hold for his family. And the sibling relationship between Bree and Neil is a solid and mutually supportive one, without which neither of them would have been able to see their ghostly experience through to its shocking end.

For those looking for a solidly middle grade ghost story, this is an excellent bet, For those, like me, who don't go out of their way to seek out spooky stories just for their spookiness, there are characters to care about, complementing the suspense and making a satisfying whole.

(I've also read Dan Poblocki's earlier horror/ghost story for kids, The Nightmarys. That was too much for me, on the horror side of things; this one was just right).

Here's another review at Jen Robinson's Book Page.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.


Monster Matsuri (Takeshita Demons 3), by Cristy Burne

Monster Matsuri (Takeshita Demons 3), by Cristy Burne (Frances Lincoln, 2012, middle grade, 203 pages)

When Miku's family moved from Japan to England (as told in Takeshita Demons, the first book of the series), they didn't, exactly, come alone. Rather, they were attacked a panoply of supernatural beings from home, most of whom, in true demonic fashion, were hostile. Miku, armed by the knowledge passed down by her now deceased grandmother, and her new friend, Cait, must perforce become demon hunters...

And in this third book of the series, there are even more demons to outwit and repress. All demonic heck is breaking out in London, and Miku's little brother, Kazu, has been kidnapped. Miku, Cait, and a boy named Alex (along with his own friendly demon, Akaname (a Filth Licker), must follow crytic clues and foil a plot hatched by one of the most powerful demons of them all...

These books reminded me somewhat of the opening of the Percy Jackson series--a relatively normal kid suddenly being attacked by mythological creatures, and forced to draw on their heritage, and their wits, to survive, in a fast pace series of adventures. And, in much the same way as Percy introduced kids to Greek Mythology, this series is a lovely introduction to the demons of Japan!

These books, however, are, I think, aimed at a slightly younger audience than Percy's adventures--the emphasis is on the action, and less on interpersonal relationships. The protagonists are very much still kids. That being said, Miku is a strong and determined young heroine, the dangers are gripping, and the demons are absolutely fascinating, and come to vivid life. I had no idea where the plot was taking me, and enjoyed the journey very much.

This is one to give to the adventure loving nine or ten year old kid who likes being a little scared--some of the demons are more than somewhat frightening (although there's no goryness). It's a UK series, and at this point in time you probably won't be seeing it in US bookstore, but they are available on line.

The first book of the series was the winner the inaugural 'Diverse Voices' award, which recognizes a manuscript that 'celebrates diversity in its widest possible sense'. And from my grown-up perspective, it is really rather cool to read about demons I know almost nothing about!

Cristy Burne is currently running a cool Monster Prize Competition--details here.

disclaimer: review copy received from the author


Stig of the Dump, by Clive King, for Timeslip Tuesday

Stig of the Dump, by Clive King (1963), for Timeslip Tuesday

Eight year old Barney is open about his new friend, Stig--"He's a sort of boy...He just wears rabbit skins and lives in cave." Though his sister and grandmother don't believe in Stig, he is, in fact real, and living in a disused quarry that's rapidly filling up with rubbish. Stig is, indeed, from the Stone Age of Britain, but with considerably ingenuity he turns his hand to the modern rubbish to furnish his home with all mod. cons. (more or less).

In series of episodic adventures, Barney and Stig encounter a group of tough boys, capture an escaped circus leopard, foil would be robbers, disrupt a fox hunt, and cut wood. Each chapter is self contained, making it a good read aloud, and though the stories are not desperately exciting or original, they are told with verve.

What makes the book really fun, though, is Stig's inventiveness. This book should inspire any child who likes to build to have fun with recycled junk. And that modern side of the material world is paired very nicely with the descriptions of Stig's own Stone Age culture.

I wondered, as I read, if we would ever be told definitely that Stig is a time traveller. We don't, exactly, but instead, near the end of the book Barney and his sister become time travellers themselves, visiting Stig and his own people on the edge of the moor as they raise a great cap stone onto two standing stones...This chapter is rather magical, and adds considerably to the sense of wonder in the book as a whole, contrasting, as it does, with Barney's matter of fact acceptance of Stig in the earlier chapters.

Barney is only eight, and sometimes I found his eightness, with its lack of questioning, rather frustrating. But I think that this probably adds to its child reader appeal, and looking over the reviews on Goodreads, this is one that many who read it when they were kids feel great fondness for.

The style might be off-putting to the modern child; it was, after all, published almost fifty years ago. I think the audio book might, however, might make a lovely car trip story, one that might even prompt discussion after the book is done. I can imagine my own boys whiling the miles away (well, at least one or two miles) with imaginative ideas on how discarded objects of modern times might be used by a survivor of the Stone Age.

personal note: I know that kids these days just don't get a chance to get out and explore as much as the pluckier children of bygone days, but I don't think that even back then I'd let my eight year old wander the English countryside alone in all weather, especially if he came home and told me he'd made friends with a strange man in a rubbish dump. This thought kept intruding into the story, in a disruptive kind of way.


This Sunday's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (8/5/2012)

Here's what I found viz mg sff this week in my blog reading--let me know if I missed yours!

The Reviews:

3 Below, by Patrick Carman, at Literate Lives

13 Secrets, by Michelle Harrison, at Charlotte's Library

The Aviary, by Kathleen O'Dell, at The Book Smugglers

Cyberia, by Chris Lynch, at Maria's Melange

Eye of the Storm, by Kate Messner, at slatebreakers

The Ghost of Graylock, by Dan Pobloki, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

The Girl Games, by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, at Small Review

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester, at books4yourkids

Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins, at Fyrefly's Book Blog

How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell, at Read in a Single Sitting

Liesl and Po, by Lauren Oliver, at Michelle Mason

The Magic Warble, by Victoria Simcox, at Geo Librarian (giveaway)

The Merman and the Moon Forgotten (Nikolas and Company 1), by Kevin McGill, at Geo Librarian

Nanny Piggins and the Wicked Plan, by R.A. Spratt, at There's a Book

The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate, at Great Kid Books and Reads for Keeps

Palace of the Damned, by Darren Shan, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Palace of Stone, by Shannon Hale, at Wandering Librarians

The Roar, by Emma Clayton, at Parenthetical

The Rock of Ivanore, by Laurisa White Reyes, at Shannon Messenger

A Tale Dark and Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz, at The Book Smugglers

A Tale of Time City, by Diana Wynne Jones, at The Book Smugglers

Tom Swift, Jr., and His Jetmarine, by Victor Appleton II, at Guys Lit Wire

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, at Bookworm Blather

The Wishing Spell, by Chris Colfer, at The Reading Zone

3 by John Flanagan (Ranger's Apprentice and Brotherband Chronicles) at Ms. Yingling Reads

And a foursome of ghosts and fantasy at Book Aunt: The Brixen Witch, by Stacy DeKeyser, The Whispering House, by Rebecca Wade, Small Medium at Large, by Joanne Levy, The Grave Robber's Apprenctice, by Allan Stratton

Authors and Interviews

Adam Sidwell (Evertaster) at A Thousand Wrongs

Jacqueline West (The Books of Elsewhere) at Julie DeGuia

Michael A. Rothman (Heirs of Prophecy) at Paranormal Indulgence (giveaway)

J.E. Taylor (Don't Fear the Reaper) at Books are Magic

Other Good Stuff

The Periodic Table of Typefaces, at Galleycat

News Flash, from Lee and Low: "TU BOOKS, the fantasy, science fiction, and mystery imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS, award-winning publisher of children’s books, is pleased to announce the first annual NEW VISIONS AWARD. The NEW VISIONS AWARD will be given for a middle grade or young adult fantasy, science fiction, or mystery novel by a writer of color. The Award winner receives a cash grant of $1000 and our standard publication contract, including our basic advance and royalties for a first time author. An Honor Award winner will receive a cash grant of $500."

Laurisa White Reyes blogs about "History as inspiration for fantasy"

And Ellen Renner shares her thoughts on "The Master-Maid: the role of women and girls in fairyland" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles

And then at Scribble City Central it's "J for Jormundgand" in the fantabulous magical creature alphabet.

A must-read for all bloggers who use pictures in their posts--Roni Loren shares a cautionary tale

Which means that today's image is one in the public record--here's an image of JK Rowlings treehouse extraordinaire from the Edinburgh Council website, via the Daily Mail (where there are more pictures)

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