10/28/15

Shadows of Sherwood--a Robyn Hoodlum Adventure, by Kekla Magoon

Shadows of Sherwood--a Robyn Hoodlum Adventure, by Kekla Magoon (Bloomsbury, middle grade, August 2015), has a great premise, and delivers great adventure along with it. Twelve-year-old Robyn Loxley didn't set out to run afoul of the laws of Nott City, but when the new dictatorial government of Ignomus Crown, ran afoul of her family something fierce, taking her parents prisoner, she had no choice.  She was supposed to have been taken too, but managed to escape. Now she is a fugitive, searching for answers, and finding herself become one of a band of young people who, like her, are enemies of the government.  Echoing the adventures of Robin Hood, Robyn and her friends "release" food and medicine to the oppressed, and just barely stay one jump ahead of the law enforcers.  But there is more afoot than simply outlaw escapades.  There's a movement underway to overthrow Crown, lead by those who believe in the old stories of moon magic, and Robyn learns that she might be just the catalyst the rebels need to succeed....

So into the Robin Hood reimagining comes another, more fantastic story.  I enjoyed recognizing the allies that Robyn makes as their Robin Hood characters, and I liked the outlawish fun and survival one step ahead of the law parts much more than I liked the moon magic, but I can see how the later adds depth to the story, setting up a path that might actually take Robyn to victory over the oppressors.

Robyn is still a fledgling heroine here, though she had (fortuitously) been practicing stealth and climbing and scavenging and other useful skills before the story begins.  She's not a great leader--it is stretching the truth to say that her plans are really planned, and she relies heavily on luck, and on her allies.  She's also not great at working with allies, almost driving her new young friends away; she's used to operating alone, and her desperate need to get her parents back sometimes blinds her to what's happening around her.   But she is a good catalyst, not just because of her affinity for the moon magic (which is prophecy and story at this point, as opposed to a functional tool for outlaws).

The story moves pretty briskly from adventurous action to less adventurous daily life in hiding; the two are nicely balanced, and the quieter moments give the secondary characters who are Robyn's new co-outlaws a chance to become more real.    The result is a very good read, maybe not really believable, but lots of fun.  Especially if you are a Robin Hood fan!

(Robyn is brown skinned girl with a poofy mass of black hair (kept tightly braided) in a world where her politician father's own dark skin was a noticeable difference from the norm.  So yay for another diverse middle grade heroine!)

10/26/15

The Astounding Broccoli Boy, by Frank Cottrell Boyce

The Astounding Broccoli Boy, by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a caper across London (with interludes in a hospital isolation ward) featuring two green boys, joined later by a green girl and a penguin, with a cameo appearance of  two other penguins who aren't important.

The fact that the three kids are green is, however, important--it is the whole foundation of the plot.  Rory, the main character, starts off brown (his dad's from Guyana) and turns green--really truly green, for no immediately obvious reason.  And so he's quickly carted off to an isolation ward in the local hospital, where to his great horror he finds another green kid already in residence--Tommy-Lee, the bully who'd been making his life miserable for months.

But  turning green has (perhaps) given them superpowers-Rory is sure that his brain now works at 200% capacity, and that he can teleport (slightly and instinctively).  Tommy-Lee can open doors locked by coded keypads in his sleep. So the two kids join forces to make their green-ness part of their new super-hero identities.   Good turns out to be kind of flexible and hard to pin down--is giving zoo animals freedom good?  Is taking peoples money in exchange for posing for pictures with them good?  Is (unintentionally) convincing the city of London that there are aliens taking over the city (the obvious explanation for the little green men who are Rory and Tommy-Lee) good?  Is smuggling a third green kid, a girl this time, back into the hospital really what those in authority want?  Breaking into Buckingham Palace on a "borrowed" milk van?  Not so much.  London, already on edge because of a mysterious pandemic (the Killer Kitten virus), doesn't exactly welcome Rory and Tommy-Lee adding to the confusion.....

It's left clear (ish) that the kids don't actually have superpowers, but they definitely did turn green.  Which makes it speculative fiction, because people don't turn green in real life (much).

And it's fun in its own way, once the rather tiresome business of wimpy kid being bullied by big bad kid is gotten over with (I am tired of bullies becoming best buddies).  But if you like books that are mostly bouncing between humorous romps, you'll enjoy it--there's plenty to chuckle at.  It doesn't have much that goes any deeper, though, and so I myself found it a tad disappointing.

10/25/15

This week's roundup of middle grade fantasy and science fiction (10/25/15)

as ever, please let me know if I missed your post!  Thanks.

The Reviews

Battle of the Bots, by C.J. Richards, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Pages Unbound

Casters of Doovik, by McKenzie Wagner, at The Write Path
Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at Bibliobrit and Kid Lit Geek

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend, by Michelle Cuevas, at Geo Librarian

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at For Those About to Mock, Candace's Book BlogThe Booklist Reader, and Waking Brain Cells

Dead Boy, by Laurel Gale, at The Reading Nook Reviews

The Doll People, by Ann Martin and Laura Goodwin, at Redeemed Reader

The Emerald Atlas, by John Stephans, at Becky's Book Reviews

Fires of Invention, by J. Scott Savage, at Cracking the Cover

The Forgotten Sisters (Princess Academy Book 3), by Shannnon Hale, at Not Acting My Age

Gabby Duran and the Unsittables, by Elise Allen and Daryle Conners, at Kid Lit Geek

The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud, at Hidden in Pages and Dual Reads

How To Fight a Dragon's Fury, by Cressida Cowell, at Barnes and Noble Reads

Immortal Guardians, by Eliot Schrefer, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste, at alibrarymama

The Last Dragonslayer, by Jasper Fforde, at Redeemed Reader

The Lost Sword (Jack Mason Book 5), by Darrell Pitt, at diva booknerds

The Lost Track of Time, by Paige Britte, at Log Cabin Library

Masterminds, by Gordon Korman, at Leaf's Reviews and Log Cabin Library

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent, by Linda Urban, at Book Nut

A Nearer Moon, by Melanie Crowder, at Waking Bain Cells

Once Upon a Pet, by Suzanne Selfors, at Barnes and Noble Reads

The Peculiar, by Stefan Bachmann, at Leaf's Reviews

A Riddle in Ruby, by Kent Davis, at Charlotte's Library

The Riverman, by Aaron Starmer, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

Romansgrove, by Mabel Esther Allen, at Charlotte's Library

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Rober Beatty, at Sharon the Librarian

A Tale Of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou, at Word Spelunking

Tom's Midnight Garden, by Phillipa Pierce, at Tales of the Marvelous

The Toymaker's Apprentice, by Sherri L. Smith, at Great Imaginations

Tristan Hunt and the Sea Guardians, by Ellen Prager, at Mom Read It

The Wells Bequest, and also The Poe Estate, by Polly Shulman, at alibrarymama


Two at Ms. Yingling Reads -- The Battle Begins (Unnaturals Book 1), by Devon Hughes, and also The Tournament at Gorlan, by John Flanagan


Authors and Interviews

Sherri L. Smith (The Toymaker's Apprentice) at Word Spelunking and Green Bean Teen Queen

Iain Reading (The Dragon of the Month Club) at Word Spelunking

Victoria Forester (The Boy Who Knew Everything) at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Matthew Cody (The Peddler's Road) at Reads All the Books


Other Good Stuff

A map of Middle Earth annotated by JRR Tolkein found at a used bookstore inside a novel once owned by Pauline Baynes (more at The Guardian)

Witch Week is coming at The Emerald City Book Review

Cressida Cowell (How to Train Your Dragon series) wins the Philosphy Now award for the fight against stupidity, at The Guardian

Scary books gathered at the Baltimore Sun


10/23/15

A Riddle in Ruby, by Kent Davis

A Riddle in Ruby, by Kent Davis (Greenwillow, middle grade, September 2015)

Ruby is a young thief in training in an alternate 18th century Europe, one full of alchemical magic, working hard to master lockpicking and useful skills.  She's also happy to sail with her father back and forth to the Americas, on what might appear to be a pirate ship, but actually is a more ordinary smuggler.  But the voyage that sets the story in motion is far from being ordinary when their ship is perused by an admiralty vessel, on which is one of the King's Reeves--the most deadly fighters there are.  The foppish boy, Athen, a passenger on the voyage, proves to have useful fighting skills, and Ruby's own skills at hiding are useful too, but the rest of the crew, including Ruby's father, are taken prisoner.  Ruby, Athen, and the Athen's servant claw their way in a leak rowboat to Philadelphi [sic] (marvelously transformed by alchemy).

Ruby knows she has to find her father again. But she herself is still being perused by the Reeve, and Athen shows himself to be an uncertain ally with his own agenda.  As the danger to Ruby becomes ever sharper, it becomes clear that she herself is the prize being hunted for, though she doesn't know why until she meets an ancient alchemist of extraordinary power, who finally gives her some of the answers to the riddle that's been making her live so extraordinarily difficult.

This is one for those who likes swordplay, and chemical magic play, and pursuits through strange places that never existed.   It wasn't quite to my own taste, because when the main character is deeply confused throughout most of the book, and everything goes wrong repeatedly and there is no safety, I empathize too much, and feel confused and unhappy myself,  especially during the beginning third or so, when I haven't had a chance to learn to care about the characters yet.   But Ruby and the cast of supporting characters are all prove to be interesting and engaging, and the alchemy is fascinating, and the second two thirds of the book went by rapidly, holding my attention very nicely indeed.

Note--I am always rather interested in how Native Americans exist in alternate histories such as this set in the Americas.  We don't get to learn much about them in this book; there's just one brief mention that they are there, outside the city, but that is a smidge better than nothing....The main characters are all white, though there are a few side descriptions of people who aren't.

10/20/15

Romansgrove, by Mabel Esther Allan, for Timeslip Tuesday

Another older one for this week's Timeslip Tuesday, by an author who I thought I liked lots after the first book of hers I read (A Strange Enchantment) but who I have found less and less personally engaging with every subsequent book....sigh.  She wrote lots and lots of books, and I still look out for them in used bookstores, but they just don't stir the emotional depths of my possibly cynical and hardened heart.

In Romansgrove (1975), we get the reformation of a spoiled girl, Emily, back in the turn of the century (19th into 20th).  Her  father is the lord of an English manner who treats the servants with appalling disregard for their humanity, and she does not question.  Then two modern siblings (1970s)  move to the country near the ruins of Romansgrove, and find themselves travelling back in time to the pre-ruined manor that was Emily's home.  Travelling with them are ideas about social justice indoctrinated in them by their father, who loathes the English caste system that made his own childhood one of brutal poverty.   But the times they are a changing, and the new lord of the Romansgrove estate, in his new(er) house, is all about breaking down class barriers, and his child is allow to play with the two modern protagonist siblings!!! 

So in any event, Emily's compressed little mind is broadened and she becomes less a spoiled brat and then the house burns down but Emily is saved because the modern kids are there and even though it should be an emotionally gripping bit of reading, it wasn't.  There was no magical thrill to it.   

Mostly the book is about two rather boring modern kids and a spoiled and kind boring century-older kid learning to agree that mistreating servants is bad. Disappointing.  It should have been good--the ruined manor house, the lonely girl, the terrible fire....but it just wasn't.  Possibly I would have liked it more if I hadn't been mentally comparing it to one my favorite timeslips--The Ghosts, by Antonia Baber (my review) which is tremendously gripping, chilling, and memorable!

10/18/15

This Week's Round-up of Middle Grade Science Fiction and Fantasy from around the blogs (10/18/15)

Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post! (Typed with cold fingers....I hope we get a bit more warmth before Winter comes for keeps!)

The Reviews

Basil of Baker Street, by Eve Titus, at Tor

Becca and the Prisoner's Cross, by Tony Abbott, at Boys Rule, Boys Read

The Book of Kringle, by Derek Velez Partidge and Mary Packard, at The Children's Book Review

The Boy Who Knew Everything, by Victoria Forester, at Fantasy of the Silver Dragon

Brilliant, by Roddy Doyle, at BNKids Blog

The Chosen Prince, by Diane Stanely, at alibrarymama

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Writer of Wrongs

The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB, by Adam Shaughnessy, at The Reading Nook Reviews

Firefly Hollow, by Allison McGhee, at Geo Librarian

Five Children on the Western Front, by Kate Saunders, at Reads For Keeps

Fuzzy Mud, by Louis Sacher, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels and Susan Uhlig

Grounded The Adventures of Rapunzel, by Megan Morrison, at Log Cabin Library

Happenstance Found, by P.W. Catanese, at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud, at The Zen Leaf

The Jumbies, by Tracy Baptiste, at Kirkus (Leila Roy's column)

The Land Without Color, by at This Kid Reviews Books

The Last Hunt, by Bruce Coville, at Read Till Dawn

The Lord of the Hat, by Obert Skye, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Lost Girl, by R.L. Stine, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall, at Bibliobrit

The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel, at Falling Letters

Nightbird, by Alice Hoffman, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Ordinary Princess, by M.M. Kaye, at alibrarymama

Over the Sea's Edge, by Jane Louise Curry, at Charlotte's Library

A Pocket Full of Murder, by R.J. Anderson, at The Book Wars

The Scary School series, by Derek the Ghost, at Always in the Middle

Seabourne: The Lost Prince, by Matt Myklusch, at Michelle I. Mason

A Sliver of Stardust, by Marissa Burt, at The Write Path

This Isn't What It Looks Like, and You Have to Stop This, by Pseudonymous Bosch, at One Librarian's Book Reviews

The Tournament at Gorlan, by John Flannagan, at On Starships and Dragonwings

The Toymaker's Apprentice, by Sherri L. Smith, at Teen Librarian Toolbox and Finding Wonderland

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones, at Charlotte's Library

Willie and Me: a Baseball Card Adventure, by Dan Gutman, at Time Travel Times Two

"Mermaids, Pirates, and Terrifying Tales | Middle Grade Series Update" a slew of mini reviews at SLJ

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads:  The League of Unexceptional Children, by Gitty Daneshvari, and The Fate of Ten, by Pittacus Lore

Authors and Interviews

Sherri L. Smith (The Toymaker's Apprentice) at The O.W.L. and The Book Smugglers

Rick Riordan at Entertainment Weekly


Other Good Stuff

Six great MG fantasies starring Sisters, a list by me at BNKids Blog

Shannon Hale kicks of a Stories For All Series of authors guest posting at her blog; here's her own and then you can go to the homepage of her blog and read them all!

How R.L. Stine "became the king of kids' horror" at The Boston Globe

A list of nicely spooky MG reads at Youth Literature Reviews, and another at Postcards from La-La Land

Dark Horse comics to publish graphic novels of the How To Train Your Dragon series (via Galley Cat)

A Tuesday Ten of Alternate Histories at Views from the Tesseract

This mermaid miniature house by artist Peter Gabel is utterly gorgeous; more pictures here at Messynessy and theyt are close ups and they are worth looking at because they are lovely!

10/17/15

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones

I'd seen Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones (Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 8-11, May 2015), reviewed on a lot of blogs since it came out, but didn't pay much attention, assuming it was a nice friendly story about a girl taking up chicken raising (which it is).  But either the bloggers were being careful to avoid spoilers in their posts, or I wasn't reading attentively, but I did not know that the titular chickens were so unusual that this was most definitely a fantasy, and neither did I know that the main character, Sophie, and her mom are, to use Sophie's term, brown people (her mom's family is Mexican).

The story is told in letters that Sophie writes to three people,  two of whom she knows won't write back because of being dead--the owner of Redwood Farm Supply, purveyors of unusual chickens, her great-uncle Jim, whose farm her family has inherited, with bonus unusual chickens, and her Abuela.  Sophie's voice in her letters is just lovely, really good reading--she can be forthcoming and to the point, but also reflective, contemplative, and descriptive. 

And she's got lots of interesting things to write about to her Abuela.  She tells how her parents are coping with their new life (mixedly; her dad is unemployed and her mom is frantically keeping money coming in through freelance writing--the book includes everyone's to do lists, and the list of articles the mom is working on at various points is both amusing in its own right and interesting as a metacommentary on the state of the family).  She tells of her own loneliness in an agricultural landscape where people are spread so much thinner than in her old city home, and where what people there are are white (except the mailman, who is an utterly lovely, friendly, reliable, helpful mailman of color. He is a great mailman).  And she talks about her uncle's chickens, who one by one come back to the farm, and who are much more than a bit Unusual (in fantastical ways!)

Sophie has lots of questions for her Uncle Jim and the Redwood Farm folks about keeping chickens in general, and her chickens in particular.  (Bits of Redwood Farms' chicken care correspondence course are shared with the reader, and you can also take their quiz along with Sophie to determine if you are ready to take on the care of chickens).   As the story unfolds, she learns more about her particular birds (and reads The Hoboken Chicken Emergency out loud to them), makes friends, and becomes a more confident member of her new agricultural community, foiling the plot of a would-be chicken kidnapper and making good progress toward becoming a truly exceptional poultry farmer.

Usually when I'm reading a book I enjoy this much, I don't notice the illustrations, but Katie Kath's pictures add to the friendliness so well I couldn't help but appreciate them!  There are lots of them, and this, coupled with the relatively short letters, lists, and other breaks in the text make this a good one for young readers who aren't quite ready for doorstoppers.

It is a sweet and funny and warm story, so much so that I almost (but not quite) wished I still had chickens myself.....and it is so nice to see everyday magic that's really honest a goodness magic popping up in real life (daily life type magic) happening to a brown American girl like Sophie (not many of these.  I can't think of another one like it).

Oddly Normal, a graphic novel by Otis Frampton, with giveaway!

Oddly Normal, by Otis Frampton (Image Comics, March 2015)


Oddly Normal is a ten-year-old girl with pointed ears and green hair, the daughter of  a half-witch.  Oddly's mother came from Fignation, a world of magic, to investigate our world, fell in love with an ordinary human, and stayed.  Oddly has been subjected to taunts all her life, but they still hurt, and when her clueless parents are surprised no one has come to her tenth birthday party, she snaps, and wishes with all the force of her being that they would just disappear!  And they do, much to Oddly's surprise--she's never had any magical abilities before. 

Furtuantly, her aunt from Fignation shows up for the party, and takes Oddly home with her to Fignation.  At first, seeing all the weird variety of Fignation's inhabitants, Oddly thinks her new middle school might finally be a place where she herself isn't so odd after all.  But being a kid from ordinary Earth isn't a ticket to popularity, and things are just as bad, if not worse--at least on Earth she wasn't hunted by a vampire boy's slavering hounds!

The illustrations are vivid and full of peculiar and monstrous details, many of them amusing, and Oddly is a relatable young heroine for those who feel that they don't belong, or whose parents don't understand them.  Fantasy fans will be pleased by the wide variety of Fignation's unusual denizens, and bookish readers will be tickled by the sprinkling of literary references.

In short, young graphic fantasy fans of ten or so will find much to appreciate!

This is the first book of a series, and ends somewhat abruptly, with no resolution to Oddly's troubles. Fortunately for fans of Oddly's fish out of water adventures, the second book (shown at right in the picture at the top of this post) comes out November 5, with volume three coming shortly thereafter.


If you'd like to win a copy of Oddly Normal volume 1, just leave a comment by midnight next Saturday, Oct. 24!

Here are the other stops on the Oddly Normal blog tour:

Monday, October 12: Guest post, Log Cabin Library

Tuesday, October 13: Interview and review, Kdub's Geekspot

Wednesday, October 14: Guest post and giveaway, A Library Mama
 
Thursday, October 15: Interview, review, and giveaway, The Book Monsters
 
Friday, October 16: Interview, Outright Geekery
 
 

10/15/15

The Caretakers Guide to Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull, illustrated by Brandon Dorman

Back in July, 2006 Kendra and Seth, two ordinary kids, entered the world of the extraordinary when they went to stay with their grandparents, the caretakers of Fablehaven.   In the years that followed, four more books in the series were published, and millions of copies were eagerly read by the many fans of the series.

As far as I know, Fablehaven was the first (fictional) large sanctuary for magical creatures--individual magic creatures had been cared for in earlier books, but Fablehaven is huge, and full of multitudes of different beings.  All those who have enjoyed exploring its secrets and meeting its inhabitants will be pleased to learn that there is now a visual guide to those multitudes--The Caretakers Guide to Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull, illustrated by Brandon Dorman (Shadow Mountain, Oct 13).  This lavishly illustrated handbook brings all the details of Fablehaven to life--you can learn more about your favorite monsters, all the different magical artifacts and potions, and explore the many specific locations within the preserve.

It's a bit more than an encyclopedia--little handwritten notes, offering comments and clarifications from some of the characters are scattered through the illustrations, making it especially fun for fans of the series, who will feel like they are meeting their old friends again!

Kids who really enjoy the specifics of fantasy worldbuilding, who really want to study different kinds of dragon, for instance, will enjoy this, even if they might not have read all the books.  I myself have never been a true fan of Fablehaven, but even so I happily read this book, thinking how useful it would be as inspiration for young creators of their own fantasy worlds!  And fans of Fablehavenfor whom it was created, will love it. 


The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven is also a gateway to the first book in the Fablehaven sequel series, Dragonwatch (coming Fall 2016), and holds clues to the characters and creatures that will appear in the new books.

10/13/15

Last call for Cybils nominations! Here are some un-nominated Elementary/Middle Grade Spec. Fic. books!

Haven't nominated an Elementary/Middle Grade book for the Cybils yet?

Do you love one of these eligible titles?

Click on the link HERE by Midnight October 15 and nominate it!

 


The Sword of Summer, by Rick Riordan (Disney-Hyperion, October 2015)



The Orphan Army, by Jonathan Maberry (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, May 2015)

 
 
 
The Second Guard, by J.D. Vaughn (Disney-Hyperion, April 2015)
 
 
Villain Keeper, by Laurie McKay (HarperCollins, February 2015)
 




 




 
The Arctic Code by Matthew J. Kirby (Balzer & Bray, April 2015)
 
 
MInrs by Kevin Sylvester (Margaret K. McElderry Books, September 2015)



A Riddle in Ruby by Kent Davis  (GreenWillow, September 2015)
  
 

 
Wonder at the Edge of the World by Nicole Helget (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, April 2015)
 


Icebreaker, by Lian Tanner (Feiwel & Friends, August 2015)
 
 
The Lost Prince by Matt MyKlusch (Egmont USA, April 2015)

Over the Sea's Edge, by Jane Louise Curry, for Timeslip Tuesday

Jane Louise Curry has written  many books that sound like they ought to be right up my alley, but always they fall short of my hopes for them.  Over the Sea's Edge (1971) is the latest in this long string of disappointments.  It is the story of a modern boy who swaps lives with a medieval Welsh boy.  Now Dave is Dewi, the boy charged with looking after his lord's pack of hounds, and gradually his modern memories fade and Dewi's reality takes over.  It is a tense time for Wales, with lots of internal fighting as well as the Normans to fight, and when Prince Madauc is almost killed in Dewi's own castle's courtyard, Dewi finds himself caught up in a great adventure.

Me--time travel to medieval Wales!  yes please.

Madauc has heard tales of a land far to the west, where riches are to be had, and he's determined to go there and get them to secure his own position in Wales.  So a boat is built, and it reaches the Americas...

And things go down hill as far as I am concerned. 

Me--oh God no. Can we just not with white people inserting romanticized white savior people where they don't belong?

The people they meet in North America are a strange amalgam of Mayan/Mississippian cultures, with a colony of earlier Welsh descendants taking center stage.  And there's strange dark magic going on to add to unconvincing Native North American worldbuilding, which the Welsh contingent saves everyone from.   I was, like, "gah."  It was not a convincing, realistic, well-rounded picture of Native North America, it was the setting for a Welsh prince to explore.  And Madauc, who at first seemed to have promise as an interesting character, gets pretty single minded about the gold thing, and Dewi stops thinking interesting thoughts about the situation as his memories of modern times vanish pretty much utterly. 

And they fall in love with beautiful Native Girls, Maduac's a Mayan priestess type girl with long flowing dark hair who thought he was a god, and Dewi with a nice little Welsh descendant.  "Falling in love" is perhaps the wrong term, as it implies a depth of emotion; "wanting to snog" is more accurate.  The (possibly) Mayan young woman seems to have a strong character, but because of the language barrier, she doesn't get to talk till the end of the story, so basically she is simply an amalgam of long dark hair (which she unconvincingly wears loose and flowing), Native "superstition", and regalia. 

I also dislike pre-Columbian North Americas that are empty enough so that Europeans can think to themselves greedy thoughts about what to do with all that empty land, because in fact North America was pretty firmly inhabited already.

I also dislike medieval Europeans who seem essentially lacking in any culture themselves.  This group of travelling Welsh folk weren't believable in any cultural sense either.  No thoughts about Christianity for instance.  No superstitions of their own in evidence.  No strong feelings of difference when confronted with other cultures. 

The North American setting is a continuation of Jane Louise Curry's earlier book, The Daybreakers, which I guess I will have to read some day if I want to read every time travel book published in English for kids in the 20th century.  Having read its Kirkus review, I'm not leaping at the opportunity. 

What was interesting (from a Time Travel book perspective) about Over the Sea's Edge is that Dewi never goes back to being Dave, and the book ends with Dave (originally Dewi) back in our world, appreciating his good education and not remembering much about being a medieval Welshman.  (At least, I think they never swapped back.  I might have to re-read the end a year from now to make sure, because this time around I had run out of interest).  It really rare that time travelers don't go home again, and in this case it helped the book achieve a reasonably satisfying ending (viz plot), because both boys are happier in their new times. 

But really my take home message is "never read any fiction about the medieval Welsh in North America."  I likewise strongly disliked Madeline L'Engle's An Acceptable Time.

Here's what Kirkus said about this one back when it first came out.

10/11/15

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (10/11/15)

I was at Kidlicton in Baltimore this past weekend, and somehow had other things to do than read Bloglovin, which is why I'm late getting this up.  Kidlitcon was Great as always (the only bad thing was the alarm clock in my room going off ever hour the first night, and it couldn't be unplugged), and do come next year! (Melissa of Book Nut is hosting it in Kansas!!!!  yay Melissa!).

So Cybils nominations close Oct. 15....and there are lots of elementary/middle grade speculative fiction books that can still be nominated (which you can do here)!  Here's a nice little list at Views from the Tesseract; The Dragon's Guide is now nominated, but none of the rest are....

And here's the round up; let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Alistair Grim's Odditorium, by Gregory Funaro, at The Reading Nook Reviews and The Book Wars

The Caretaker’s Guide to Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull, at Mom Read It, Cracking the CoverMs. Yinging Reads, and The Book Monsters

Castle Hangnail, by Ursula Vernon, at Fantasy Book Critic

Circus Mirandus, by Cassie Beasley, at Becky's Book Reviews

The Copper Gauntlet, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at Randomly Reading

The Enchanted Egg (Magical Adoption Agency) by Kallie George, at Sharon the Librarian

Escape from Baxter's Barn, by Rebecca Bond, at Log Cabin Library

The Fog Diver, by Joel Ross, at Log Cabin Library

Fuzzy Mud, by Louis Sacher, at For Those About To Mock

The Imaginary, by A.F. Harrold, at Sharon the Librarian

Jinx's Magic, by Sage Blackwood, at Book Nut

The League of Unexceptional Children, by Gitty Daneshvari, at Mom Read It

Lockwood and Co. series, by Jonathan Stroud, at Project Mayhem

A Nearer Moon, by Melanie Crowder, at Log Cabin Library

The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel, at Challenging the Bookworm, Waking Brain Cells, and In Bed With Books

The Perfect Match, by E.D. Baker, at Sharon the Librarian

Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures, by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stifvater, at Log Cabin Library

The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud, at Leaf's Reviews

The Sleepwaker Tonic, by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller,  at Buxton's Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels

The Sword of Summer, by Rick Riordan, at School Library Journal  (nb--I don't think I'll be including other reviews of this one; they aren't hard to find and it's not like we don't know it exists)

A Tangle of Knots, by Lisa Graff, at Pages Unbound

Took, by Mary Downing Hahn, at BooksForKidsBlog

Tristan Hunt and the Sea Gaurdians, by Ellen Prager, at Kid Lit Reviews

The Unmapped Sea, by Maryrose Wood, at Leaf's Reviews

Upside-Down Magic, by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins, at The Reading Nook Reviews and  Log Cabin Library

Westly: A Spider's Tale, by Bryan Beus, at Cracking the Cover and Log Cabin Library

Winterling, by Sarah Prineas, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow

The Worst Witch and the Wishing Star by Jill Murphy, at Sharon the Librarian


Two at Tales of the Marvelous--My Unfair Godmother, by Janette Rallison, and The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie, by Kirsty Murray

10/7/15

Clover's Luck (Book 1 of The Magical Adoption Agency) by Kallie George

Clover's Luck (Book 1 of The Magical Adoption Agency) by Kallie George (Disney-Hyperion February 3, 2015, out in paperback Oct 6) is a charming magical creature fantasy for the young--give this one to the third or fourth grader who dreams of having a magical pet of their own!

Clover is pretty sure she is utterly unlucky, and this feeling is confirmed when her pet bird escapes (she has especial bad luck with pets, which hurts, because she loves the so).  She follows the escapee into the woods, very sorry for herself, and rather anxious, for the people in her village always made a point of staying far from the Woods, knowing the forest to be a strange and unchancy place.   But Clover is plucky and keeps going, and sees a sign that seems to be written just for her, calling for volunteers who love animal s to help at the M.A.A.A.  So follows the directions to The Magical Animal Adoption Agency, where no pet is too unusual to adopt.

And by "unusual" the agency really means "unusual"--enchanted toads, unicorns, and even a young dragon are currently in residence.  Clover is thrilled to have found the best way imaginable to spend her summer!  But when the proprietor of the M.A.A.A. takes off almost immediately, leaving Clover in charge, she has more responsibility than she wants.  Strange folk come seeking to adopt the creatures, and it's up to Clover not just to feed and water the animals, but to make sure they are going to the right homes....which is a pretty challenging task that makes for fun reading!  Lots of small twists and turns of story lead to happy endings, and Clover realizes she's not unlucky after all!

Like I said above, a nice friendly story great for elementary school readers who would rather cuddle dragons than slay them!  There are nice bits of humor, and Clover is a pleasantly relatable protagonist, force to rise to a challenging occasion.  Lots of good description brings the agency and its denizens to vivid life, and the sense that there is more magic out there beyond the Woods adds a touch of depth and complexity to the world building. 

Clover's Luck is eligible for the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Cybils Award this year, but has not yet been nominated (edited to add--I take it back. It's been nominated as an early chapter book, although I am thinking it might be on the less early chapter book side of things....it's a fuzzy line).  If you are interested in nominating an EMG Speculative Fiction book , or any other book from the past year in a variety of categories, please head over here to the Cybils Award site by Oct 15!

10/6/15

Dayshaun's Gift, by Zetta Elliott, for Timeslip Tuesday

Dayshaun's Gift, by Zetta Elliott (Create Space, Sept 2015, older elementary), is the second of her City Kids books, in which urban kids get a chance to have magical adventures.  The first was The Phoenix on Baker Street (my review), which was a rare example of lovely magic coming into the lives of kids in a modern urban setting.  This one is a time travel story, and so less extraordinarily fantastical, but it's good too.

Dayshaun would (unsurprisingly) rather stay peacefully at home playing video games than go out into the heat with his mother to work in the community garden in their Brooklyn neighborhood.  But she insists...and I guess either she's more consistently forceful mother than I am, or Dayshaun is a more cooperative child, but after only limited resistance from his part the two of them set off to the historic area where their garden is planted.

Working amongst the cabbages, the heat gets so intense that Dayshaun is driven to putting on his grandfather's worn old hat...and with a wave of dizziness, he's transported 150 years back in time!  He keeps his head remarkably well, and becomes friendly with two local kids who don't seem to notice anything odd about him, and he goes with them to take food to a group of African Americans who have been forced to flee from their homes in Manhattan because of the rioting there related to the Civil War military draft.

Dayshaun is moved by the plight of the refugees, and forms a bond with one old man in particular, who gives him a handful of heirloom tomato seeds he'd brought with him when he escaped slavery in Virginia.  Dayshaun, who soon afterwards finds himself in his own time again, gives them to his mother to plant, and so the heritage of generations can grow again, making this garden an even more special place.

It's a story full of history and creates a lovely sense of a place rooted in the past. I'm a gardener myself, and am all in favor of urban greenspaces, so I appreciated that aspect of the book lots, and I think I would  have back when I was the age of the target audience.   It's not one for every kid though--there is little tension, and no sense of danger to Dayshaun.  He has a remarkably stress-free time travel experience, though he is clearly aware of the horrible stress endured by the refugees.  This lack of urgency to the plot makes it, I think, one perhaps better suited to peaceful reading out loud to a seven or eight year old than one to give a reluctant reader who demands excitement (though of course the basic story of time travel offers some excitement in its own right!).  And reading it outloud gives kids a chance to hear about race riots in the past with a grownup who can clarify and comfort, if needed.   Kids growing up in Brooklyn will especially appreciate this new look at their own place, but Dayshaun is a relatable protagonist for any kid forced to spend Saturday away from their electronic devices.

Here's a nice afterward by the author.

disclaimer:  review copy received from the author

10/5/15

Diverse Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Books that haven't been nominated for the Cybils yet

It was a slow Cybils nomination day for Elementary/Middle Grade books, which distressed me because 1.  there are lots of great books that haven't been nominated 2.  I check every half hour or so, and feel sad when there is no new nominated book.
 
So in case you are wondering what to nominate, I've been making little lists, like this one of books published at the end of this years eligibility period (which is Oct 16 2014-Oct 15 205), and books published at the beginning of that period.
 
Todays list is diverse books!  Diversity isn't a criteria by which Cybils books are judged, but it is always good to be able to offer the world a shortlist that includes diverse authors and characters.  It's hard to do this, though, when those books don't get nominated.   The Elementary/Middle Grade Spec nominations so far (71 of them) include some diverse books, but not a whole heck of a lot.  So here are some additional ones that could be nominated.  I haven't read them all, so I can't actually speak to their quality, but if you have read one and loved it, please give it a chance! (the ones crossed out are now nominated).
 
 
With diverse protagonists--
 
Nomad, by William Alexander 
Smek for President, by Adam Rex
The Book that Proves Time Travel Happens, by Henry Clark
Phyllis Wong and the Return of the Conjuror, by Geoffrey McSkimming
Mars Evacuees, by Sophia McDougall
The Lost City, by J. &  P. Voelkel
The Second Guard, by J.D. Vaughn
                                                                                                                                                                           
By diverse authors (please let me know that I'm missing lots here!)
 
The Dragon's Guide to the Care and feeding of Children, by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder
Hunters of Chaos by Crystal Valasquez
The Toymaker's Apprentice, by Sherri L. Smith
Dayshaun's Gift, by Zetta Elliott
 
With a protagonist who has a disability--
 
Six, by M.M. Vaughan
The Copper Gauntlet, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
 
Please let me know what other eligible diverse elementary/middle grade spec fic books published in the last year that you can think of, and if they haven't been nominated yet, I'll add them to this list!

10/4/15

The Week's Round-up of Middle Grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs (Oct 4, 2015)

It's Cybils nomination time, and as the organizer of the Elementary/Middle Grade Cybils, I want all the good EMG Spec Fic books published in the eligibility period to be nominated!  That's books for kids 8ish to 12ish published in the US or Canada between Oct 16, 2014 and Oct 15, 2015.  The nomination period closes Oct. 15, and here's where you go to nominate.

Here are some lists of books not yet nominated

A list of good ones at Log Cabin Library

A  list of books from last fall at Charlotte's Library

A list of early October 2015 books at Charlotte's Library

and I have put little red *s next to the books mentioned in today's post that are eligible and still un-nominated!

And as usual, please let me know if I missed your review!

The Reviews

The Boy Who Knew Everything, by Victoria Forester, at Sharon the Librarian

The Caretakers Guide To Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull, at Word Spelunking and The O.W.L.

Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, at Log Cabin Library

A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano, at Log Cabin Library

Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, at Challenging the Bookworm

*Fires of Invention, by J. Scott Savage, at Ms. Yingling Reads, The Write Path (with giveaway) and The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester, at Read Till Dawn

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, by Catherynne M. Valente, at Postcards from La-La Land

*Ghostlight, by Sonia Gensler, at The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible, by Ursula Vernon, at Charlotte's Library

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, by Christopher Healey, at Kid Lit Geek

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, at Falling Letters

The Island of Dr. Libris,  by Chris Grabenstein, at Becky's Book Reviews

Jinx's Fire, by Sage Blackwood, at Leaf's Reviews

*The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Brallier, at School Library Journal

The Magic Thief: Found, by Sarah Prineas, at Leaf's Reviews

Nightmares!  and *Nightmares: The Sleepwalker Tonic, by Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller, at The Quiet Concert

The Ordinary Princess, by M.M. Kaye, at Jean Little Library

Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale, at Hope is the Word

The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu, at The Book Wars

Return to Augie Hobble, by Lane Smith, at Log Cabin Library

Serafina and the Black Cloak, by Robert Beatty, at Kid Lit Geek and Ex Libris

*The Shrunken Head, by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester, at Always in the Middle, This Kid Reviews Books and Teen Librarian Tool Box

Skullduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy, at Dead Houseplants

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, by Kelly Jones, at For Those About to Mock

*Voyager: Project Alpha, by D.J. MacHale, at Small Review

*Westly: a Spider's Tale, by  Bryan Beus, at S.A. Larsen (giveaway)

*Why is This Night Different From All Other Nights? by Lemony Snicket, at Tor

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads:  The Shrunken Head, by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester, and Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic by Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller

Authors and Interviews

Rick Riordan at the Guardian

Melanie Crowder (A Nearer Moon) at Project Mayhem

Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester (The Curiosity House) at The Children's Book Review

William Alexander (*Nomad) at Cynsations

Laurel Gale (*Dead Boy) at Literary Rambles

Other Good Stuff

A round-up of Alice In Wonderland anniversary celebrations at Educating Alice

A Tuesday Ten of Creepy Fantastic at Views from the Tesseract

I love love love love  this proposal for turning Iceland's electrical pylons into giants! (more picture at the link)

10/3/15

Elementary/middle grade spculative fiction books published way back in the fall of 2014 that haven't been nominated for the Cybils yet

So yesterday I shared a list of unpublished and as yet un-nominated book eligible for this years Cybils, because of being worried that since fewer people have read them, and so they might be overlooked.  Today I share another group I worry about--the ones published in the fall of 2014.  The eligiblitiy period this year is Oct 16, 2014 to Oct, 15, 2015, but 2014 is so long ago now that it's books might have drifted to the back of people's minds.  So I quickly went through Kirkus' reviews, and pulled out these books (I haven't read them yet, nor have I checked with utmost care to ensure that they are eligible and don't have earlier editions kicking around), and if you read one of them and loved it, do feel free to nominate it!


by Jane Yolen
 

by Jason Fry
 

10/2/15

Some books elibigle for this year's Elementary/Middle Grade Cybils that haven't been published, or nominated, yet

Currently (after two days of nominations) there are 55 books in contention for this year's Cybils Award in Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, and they are fine books indeed--it would be rather easy to come up with a strong shortlist of seven from these books alone.  

But there are plenty of books that haven't been nominated yet, and even though it is early days still, since the nomination period doesn't end till Oct 15, I am getting twitchy.  I get especially antsy about the books that haven't been published yet (Oct 15 is also the publishing deadline), and even more especially antsy about the ones I haven't read which haven't been published.  So I made a list of some books not yet published, though I'm sure I'm missing lots of goods ones. 

If you've read and loved one of these, do consider nominating it for the Cybils


THE BATTLE BEGINS
by Devon Hughes


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