9/21/21

Parsifal Rides the Time Wave, by Nell Chenault, for Timeslip Tuesday

Parsifal Rides the Time Wave, by Nell Chenault (1962, Little Brown), is a rather charming time travel book for young readers, 6-9 ish. And even though it is short (with only 85 pages of large text, I read it in 20 minutes), I enjoyed it!

Parsifal is a Poddley, a magical creature who travels to world helping children in need. He's so good at the job he's part of the Poddley Emergency Squad, who take on the toughest cases. And when he arrives at a hospital to see a boy making no effort to get well again, he knows he'll have to be on top of his magical game. And so he un-invisibles himself, and starts to get the bottom of Colin's troubles.

It's a sad story. Colin chased a ball into the street, and didn't see the truck coming. His old collie, Lad, his best friend forever, found the strength to force his old bones to run, and knocked Colin mostly out of harms way. Colin ended up in the hospital, with no reason not to make a full recovery, but Lad was killed. And now Colin is sunk in a pit of self-blame and sadness, and refuses to eat or try to get better.

So Parsifal sets to work to rekindle Colin's interest in life. And what better way to do that than to time travel to medieval Scotland, to meet Robert the Bruce!

Parsifal, being magical, makes time travel easy--Colin arrives appropriately clad and speaking Gaelic. And he saves Robert the Bruce from a treacherous attack, with the help of Robert's own dog, Ban. And sadly, like Lad, Ban is killed saving his master. To thank Colin, Robert gives him as special gift--Ban's son, a lovable puppy.

The puppy can't travel through time, but when Colin gets home he finds his parents have gotten him a puppy just like little Ban Jr. And he is happy again.

It's a sweet and pleasant story despite the sadness of dog death. The time travel is fun and exciting, and although I worried that I might find the whole Poddley thing too twee to stomach, I was perfectly fine with it. Though it's an old book it's not particularly dated in feel, and I'd happily give it to an early chapter book reader who loves both dogs and all things medieval.

Thanks Sherry, at Semicolon, for reviewing the book and putting it on my radar! And thanks, fate, for leading me to a used bookstore in Maine where I found a cheap copy!

9/19/21

This week's middle grade sci fi/fantasy roundup (9/19/21)

Welcome to this week's round-up of middle grade sci fi/fantasy from around the blogs!  Please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

*Attack of the Killer Komodos, by Summer Rachel Short, at Charlotte's Library

Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron, at Say What?

*City of Thieves, by Alex London, at The Bookwyrm's Den

*Curse of the Furies, by Meadoe Hora, at Say What?

*Da Vinci's Cat, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, at Sonderbooks 

Dragon City, Katie and Kevin Tsang, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

*Egg Marks The Spot: A Skunk and Badger Story by Amy Timberlake, illus. by Jon Klassen, at A Bookish Way of Life, Rosi Hollinbeck, and Twirling Book Princess

Everblaze (Keeper of the Lost Cities #3), by Shannon Messenger, at GoodeyReads

The Gatekeeper of Pericael, by Haley Reese Chow, at Valinora Troy

The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi, at Say What?

*The Hideaway, by Pam Smy, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books and Randomly Reading

*Long Lost, by Jacqueline West, at Jean Little Library

*Maya and the Return of the Godlings, by Rena Barron, at The Caffeinated Reader

*The Midnight Brigade, by Adam Borba, at| Always in the Middle

Mulan: Before the Sword, by Grace Lin, at Completely Full Bookshelf

*The Namer of Spirits, by Todd Mitchell, at Alison Alexander

One Shadow on the Wall, by Leah Henderson, at Colorful Book Reviews


*The Thief of Worlds, by Bruce Coville, at Children's Books Heal

*A Touch of Ruckus, by Ash Van Otterloo, at Charlotte's Library

*The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, by Anne Ursu, at Pages Unbound

*The Way to Impossible Island, by Sophie Kirtley, at Charlotte's Library

Willow Moss and the Lost Day, by Dominique Valente, at Silver Button Books

*What Lives in the Woods, by Lindsay Currie, at Ms. Yingling Reads and Cracking the Cover


Authors and Interviews

Kate Wilkinson (Edie and the Box of Flits) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

*Summer Rachel Short (Attack of the Killer Komodos) at From The Mixed Up Files

Phil Hickes (The Bewitching of Aveline Jones) at  Alittlebutalot

*Jessica Vitalis (The Wolf’s Curse), at The Bookwyrm's Den and the Middle Grade Ninja podcast

Diane Magras (Secret of the Shadow Beasts) at MG Book Village


Other Good Stuff

The Ignyte Award winners have been announced; congratulations to  Claribel A. Ortega (Ghost Squad) for winning in MG! (here's my review)

And the 2021 National Book Awards Longlist for Young People's Literature has been announced, with MG spec. fic. represented by the lovely Too Bright to See, by Kyle Lukoff (here's my review)

*and finally, public nominations for this year's Cybils Awards open on October 1st, so start thinking about what elementary/middle grade speculative fiction book you want to give love too!  (eligible books are published in the US or Canada between Oct 16, 2020 and Oct 15 2021, I've put a * next to the ones that I'm sure are eligible). There's an idea board, over at the Cybils website--feel free to add as many as you like to it! 

9/18/21

Attack of the Killer Komodos, by Summer Rachel Short

If kids surviving un-natural, vicious, creatures and the perils of the natural wilderness is your jam, you must read Attack of the Killer Komodos, by Summer Rachel Short (September 2021, Simon & Schuster).  

Maggie and her best friend, Nate, saved their town from mutant mushrooms, and saved Maggie's older brother, Ezra (and many others) from the zombification they caused (as told in The Mutant Mushroom Takeover-my review).  Now the three kids  (and their grandma) are in Yellowstone National Park, where Maggie's dad is a ranger.  It's supposed to be a fun family vacation, but it's clear to Maggie that something is bothering her dad...

And then he goes off on ranger business, and her grandma goes off to buy supplies, and the kids are all alone when a major earthquake strikes.  The way into town is cut off by a new geyser, but the walkie-talkie still works, and Dad lets them know where he is, and that he is injured.  So instead of staying put like the are supposed, they set off to hike the four miles to get to him.

It is not your average walk in the park.

To Nate's fascinated delight (cryptozoology is his passion), the fauna of the park now includes strange  and deadly creatures.  Komodo dragons with stingers, snakes with wings, giant mosquitos, and more, make the four miles almost impossible.  Where did they come from?

Ezra is preoccupied by caring for a strange mutant snake, and Nate's mind races with conspiracy theories and he's determined to document the bizarre creatures for his you-tube channel. Maggie is more practical; she anxious to find a factual answer to what's happening, and a chance discovery of a hidden lab supports her belief that a rouge scientist must be involved.  But will they survive long enough to find out?  

Their journey is full of peril upon peril, not just from the creatures, but from the ordinary hazards of being in cut off in a wilderness being shaken by earthquakes. The walkie-talkie no longer works, food and water run low, and they keep getting hurt....and the komodo dragon-things seem to be hunting them!

It's not quite to my own personal taste (I like survival stories, but prefer them meditative rather than tumultuous), but I can image it hitting the spot for many kids.  Readers who like fast-paced action will love it just for that; readers who like fantastical creatures will love it for the menagerie presented here (especially Ezra's snake friend), and scientifically-minded kids will appreciate how much of it is actually based in real science (as explained in the end-notes).


9/16/21

A Touch of Ruckus, by Ash Van Otterloo

 

A Touch of Ruckus, by Ash Van Otterloo (Sept 7, 2021, Scholastic), is a lovely real-world fantasy for middle grade readers.

Tennie (short for Tennessee) is wearing herself out trying to be a Good Child, a child who can keep her mother's depression at bay, a child who can look after her little siblings, a child who doesn't make trouble.  Her parents are in a rough spot financially and mentally, but her mom won't ask her own mother for help.  Instead, they are pretending everything is ok.  The plan is to drop Tennie's big brother off at grandmother's on their way to a new, smaller, home, but he doesn't want to stay out in the small wooded hillside town of Howler's Hollow.  Tennie does, desperately, and without actually having to ask directly for what she wants, it happens, and she's the one left behind.

She loves her grandma, loves the woods, and there's even a new friend.  Fox is friendly and is eager to include Tennie in their ghost hunting,  But her grandma isn't as much of a safe haven as Tennie wants her to be--she's on the edge of growing broke, and has a rich new boy friend, who sets off all sorts of alarm bells immediately in the reader's  mind.  Tennie can't help but question how much Fox really wants to be friends, and the ghost hunting succeeds, and explodes into a terrifying haunting.  

On top of this, Tennie is keeping a big secret from her new friend.  Tennie has a magical gift, or possibly curse--when she touches something, she picks up the thoughts and emotions of its owner. It's been a horrible source of stress for her.  Fox has a secret too--they are looking for one particular, very dear, ghost...and though they aren't actually keeping these secret from each other, both kids are shyly and sweetly wondering if they might be on track to being more than just friends....

But the ghosts get in the way of peaceful life, and in their terrifying, angry way, they are trying to help with their warnings that the  forest is in danger.  Plenty of spookiness, mystery solving, and more than a touch of ruckus ensues!  And Tennie, to save this place she loves, and bring her family together, sheds the shell of Good Child and says what needs to be said, and does what needs to be done.

There's so much to like in this one!  I especially liked how Tennie was able to move on from her impossible, self-appointed role in her family, and how her mother actually had recognized she had depression and was doing something about it--it is rare in MG fiction to have a parent with mental illness who actually doesn't need her kid to hold everything together.  I also especially liked the very sweet relationship between Tennie and Fox, not just the hint of coming romance (although I'm glad to have another addition to my list of LGBTQ relationships in MG speculative fiction) but the realistic portrayal of the squirmy tension of getting a true friendship started; both kids make missteps, but realize that being honest about what they were thinking fixes things. 

And finally, the ghosts were great, and their story and what they are hoping to accomplish brings in a nice bit of environmentalism into the mix, which I am always there for. 

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher

9/14/21

The Way to Impossible Island, by Sophie Kirtley

A few weeks ago, I read The Wild Way Home, by Sophie Kirtley, for Timeslip Tuesday, and enjoyed it very much.  Happily, when I was over in Ireland book shopping, I bought her second time travel book too--The Way to Impossible Island (Bloomsbury, July 2021 in the UK), which I enjoyed even more!  It is a continuation of the first story, though not a sequel--the point of view characters have changed. 

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Mothgirl and Dara, the younger siblings of the main characters from book 1.  Both are Irish kids (10/11 year old) but she lives in the Neolithic period, and he in the modern.  Both are stuck in tough places.

Mothgirl's older brother went of on a long journey and hasn't come back, and her father is getting old; with two little kids to feed as well, things are anxious.  And now Vulture, the leader of a horrible neighboring clan, wants to buy Mothgirl from her father to be trained up to be his son's wife.  When her father agrees to the deal, Mothgirl runs with her pet wolf into the night.  

Dara was born with a serious heart condition, and this summer he's finally going have the Big Operation that he thinks will make everything normal.  For instance, he'll row himself out to Lathrin Island, the focus of his dreams of independent adventuring, with no worrying, hovering parents.  When the operation is postponed, he becomes so fed up with it all that he decides to go off and visit the island anyway, and heads down to the beach in the middle of the night.

And  time slips open, and Mothgirl and her wolf are hiding in the boat shed when Dara opens the door.  

Together they make the journey to the island, and almost drown in the wild and dangerous channel.  Together on the island they find shelter, climb to safety, and share knowledge with each other.  And then, no longer together, they return to their homes with greater confidence and surety, more ready for what the future might bring.

It is a lovely story.  There are:

--entertaining and thought-provoking details of cross-temporal communication and misunderstanding 

--exciting dangerous bits 

--a horribly moving bit when the wolf is presumed to have drowned, and Mothgirl forces herself to say goodbye and free his spirit (I'll put in a spoiler here--the dear  wolf friend has not drowned).

--magical bits, including stories tied to places and people 

--and then finally the heartwarming-ness of both kids realizing that they don't need to worry about being "normal" and fitting in to customary ways of being in the world, and that being "big and strong" isn't necessary in order to succeed.  In the end, they are more firmly their own unique (loveable) selves, but they've learned that the journey is better with other people helping and being helped.  

--and even more finally that little kick of emotion at the end of a really good time travel book, when the characters are each in their own time again, never to meet again....

It's almost three hundred pages, but it took me only about an hour and a half to read it because it was So Good.  


9/12/21

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy links (9/12/21)

Welcome to this week's round-up of what I found on line this week!  Please let me know if I missed your post, or a post about your book.

The Reviews

Alone, by Megan E. Freeman, at Not Acting My Age

Amari and the Night Brothers, by B.B. Alston, at The Mary Sue

The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo, ill. Sophie Blackall, at Fuse #8

The Bewitching of Aveline Jones, by Phil Hickes, at Book Craic

The Book of Pearl, by y Timothée de Fombelle at YP

The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities, by Rick Riordan et al., at The Bookwyrm's Den

Dark Waters, by Katherine Arden, at Puss Reboots

Egg Marks the Spot (Skunk and Badger #2) by Amy Timberlake, illustrations by Jon Klassen, at Log Cabin Library

The Hideaway, by Pam Smy, at Charlotte's Library

Homer on the Case, by Henry Cole, at Rosi Hollinbeck

Legend of the Storm Sneezer, by Kristiana Sfirela, at Charlotte's Library

Kiki Kallira Breaks A Kingdom, by Sangu Mandanna, at and other tales

Lightning Falls, by Amy Wilson, at Library Girl and Book Boy

The Monsters of Rookhaven, by Padraig Kenny, at Valinora Troy

On These Magic Shores by Yamille Saied Mendez, at Colorful Book Reviews

Once Upon a Camel, by Kathi Appelt, at Geo Librarian, proseandkahn, Always in the Middle, and Log Cabin Library

Pahua and the Soul Stealer, by Lori M. Lee, at The Bookwyrm's Den, Book-Keeping, and Ms. Yingling Reads

Pax, by Sara Pennypacker, at The Children's War

SHADOWGHAST by Thomas Taylor, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Stowaway, by John David Anderson, at The Neverending TBR

A Touch of Ruckus, by Ash Van Otterloo, at Say What?

THE WIZARD IN MY SHED, by Simon Farnaby, at Twirling Book Princess

Two at A Bit About Books--The Shadow Prince by David Anthony Durham and The Nightsilver Promise by Annaliese Avery

Authors and Interviews

B.B. Alston (Amari and the Night Brothers) at Fictitious (You-Tube)

Sarah Albee (Scientifically Ever After) at Nerdy Book Club

Kate DiCamillo (The Beatryce Prophecy) at MG Book Village

Angharad Walker (The Ash House) at Library Girl and Book Boy

Other Good Stuff

New in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The 2021 Dragon Awards have been announced; here's the bit that's relevant to this round-up:

Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel

and finally, isn't this Vietnamese bridge fantastic!



9/9/21

The Hideaway, by Pam Smy, with giveaway!

If fall puts you in the mood for haunting stories of old graveyards and ghosts, with perhaps the power of love to transcend death if only for a snatch of time, do try The Hideaway, by Pam Smy! You'll be rewarded not just with atmospheric spookiness, but with a chance to weep in public (or now that you have been warned, in private) over a sharply drawn portrait of a more ordinary sadness--this is also a story of domestic abuse.  It's told in two points of view, that of a boy, Billy, on the run from a home made toxic by his mother's abusive boyfriend, Jeff, and Billy's mother, searching for him with the help of neighbors and the authorities.  

Billy can no longer stand being helpless in the same house as Jeff any longer.  To the familiar soundtrack of  invective being spewed at his mother, with the threat of violence always present, Billy gathers together clothes and provisions (and all the sharp kitchen knives) and leaves.  Following a route he's taken in his mind a thousand times, he heads through the autumn rain for the shelter he's found for himself--an abandoned military pill box in an old cemetery.  Cold and wet, he curls himself up.

The next morning he finds he's not an alone; an old man is pottering around the grave stones.  The man, recognizing Billy as the desperate runaway he is, strikes a deal with him--if Billy will help cleaning up the overgrown graves, the man will give him a few days grace before alerting the authorities.

Meanwhile, when his mother realizes Billy has missed school, and isn't quietly up alone in his room as usual, she takes action, regardless of the consequences.  She finds help and support in the neighbors from whom she'd previously been isolated, and a search begins.

So does a chance for Billy's mum to break free from her trap, and a chance for Billy to start healing from the trauma.  And the story moves towards a heartbreaking ending when the purpose of the old man's graveyard cleaning becomes clear on All Souls day, and the dead are reunited with each other, and with the living (this is the part where I cried).

The story wraps up tidily with Jeff's arrest, and the old man's story is tied into that of Billy's family, so there's considerable hope that things will go better now (although one worries of course that Jeff, out of prison, will come back with murder in his heart...).

But in any event, slightly too tidy ending aside, it is an emotional journey of a book that I loved! So many feels.  It's being marketed as middle grade, for kids 10-13 ish (Billy's age), and though I wouldn't give it to a kid any younger than that, I can easily imagine older readers clicking with it.

The Hideaway is illustrated by the author throughout with black and white drawings, with double-page spreads at the climax of the story.  Pam Smy is a whiz with tonal and texture.  The images are melancholy, spooky, sharp with anxiety, fading into more peaceful mist. 





A bit about the author:


Pam Smy studied Illustration at Cambridge School of Art, where she now lectures part-time. Pam has illustrated books by Conan Doyle, Julia Donaldson, and Kathy Henderson, among others; visit her instagram account for lots eerie goodness! Her first novel, Thornhill, was a critical and commercial success, shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the UKLA Book Awards, the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal 2018, and winning the 2018 British Book Design & Production Award for Graphic Novels. She lives in Cambridge, UK.

And now the Giveaway!

5 winners will receive a hardcover of The Hideaway!
US/UK, Giveaway ends 9/19 at 11:59pm ET

(disclaimer: review copy and promotional links received from Media Masters Publicity)

9/7/21

Legend of the Storm Sneezer, by Kristiana Sfirlea, for Timeslip Tuesday

This week's timeslip story, Legend of the Storm Sneezer, by Kristiana Sfirela (middle grade, May 2020 Monster Ivy Publishing) is one that will please the young reader who likes magical heroines that are easy to cheer for in rule-bending mystery solving!

When Rose was just a baby winged angel (like everyone else around her, not babies, that is, but people with wings), her innate magic manifested when she sneezed out a storm cloud.  The cloud, Stormy, was her best friend, and living with rainfall and electrical sparking as she chased legends in the woods near her home was fine.

Until it wasn't anymore.  

When Stormy was deemed too dangerous and just plain wrong for a girl who was the heir to the Commander of her town, Rose's father paid a witch doctor to trap her magic deep inside her, unable to manifest beyond a few sparks.  That was still too much for her family, though, and so Rose is packed of to Heartstone, an asylum for those with unstable magic are looked up.

Happily Heartstone turns out not to be a fearful prison, but instead is more like a magical boarding school, where its inmates, though still unfree, can live happy lives, and learn, and create.  And even make friends. 

But Heartstone is in danger.  It was built on the site of a long-ago battle between angels and wolf-like wargs, and the ghost of both sides are pressing closer and closer to its walls, in violate of the old agreement made by the asylum's founders.  

Rose, her spirit unbroken by the trauma inflicted on her, is determined to find out what is happening.  Fortunately, she doesn't have to do it on her own; she has good friends and a loyal, ghost-spotting, dog on her side.  She also (and this is where the time-slippness comes into the story) is getting letters from her future selves, that don't offer direct advice, but do have useful clues.  And Stormy, too, isn't quite gone...which is good, because the ghosts aren't the real problem.  The real problem is much worse.

I had reservations when I started the book--I really don't like intrusive narrators breaking the fourth wall, and it starts with an eyeful of that.  And I was a bit concerned that it would fall too far into fantasy whimsy for me to enjoy.  But once Rose gets to Heartstone, the story rips along very nicely indeed, and I was able to start sincerely enjoying her adventures!

And I was rewarded with a story that became bigger in scope as it went on, the sort of story I like even better than just magical school stories, one where past wrongs much be come to terms with or else the present will be destroyed.  So although I never stopped being bothered by breaks in the fourth wall (like getting poked while peacefully reading, and kicking me out of the story), I ended up enjoying this very much.  

(one thing that did strike me as distractingly odd is that although all the angel folk have wings and can fly, there is very little flying, and none of it particularly advances the plot.  The wings could have been left out, and nothing would have been appreciably different....and I think I'd have enjoyed it more if they'd been just people and not angels; "angel" comes with so many religious connotations in our world, although not in this fictional world, that it was distracting.)

nb re time travel--a future Rose does come back in person a few times, making this slightly more time-travelly than just the letters would have been.  But it still could have functioned as  story just fine with out the time travel element, which I found slightly disappointing...until I got to the end, with its strong and welcome hints of more time-travel-ness to come!

9/5/21

This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (9/5/21)

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

First--the deadline for applying to be a panelist for this year's Cybils Awards has been extended to 9/10, and I would be so happy to welcome new folks to the category I chair, which is Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction!  Anyone who talks about books on line, on whatever platform they choose, is welcome to apply.

The Reviews (only 1 from me this week, but I'm determined to get my groove back next week...)

The Battle for Roar, by Jenny McLachlan, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Dark Waters, by Katherine Arden, at Pages Unbound

The Die of Destiny, by Frank L. Cole, at Geo Librarian

The Dollhouse: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter, at Lazy Day Literature

A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans (Dragon’s Guide #1) by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, at Colorful Book Reviews

Dragon War (Dragon Quartet #4) by Laurence Yep, at Colorful Book Reviews

The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities: New Stories About Mythic Heroes, by Rick Riordan, at Rajiv's Reviews

Freeze, by Chris Priestly, at Library Girl and Book Boy

Healer of the Water Monster, by Brian Young, at alibrarymama

Jukebox, by Nidhi Chanani, at Time Travel Times Two

Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found by Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi, at alibrarymama

The Last Fallen Star (Gifted Clans, Book 1) by Graci Kim, at Rapunzel Reads

Maya and the Return of the Godlings (Maya and the Rising Dark #2), by  Rena Barron, at Evelyn Reads

The Midnight Brigade, by Adam Borba, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Once Upon a Camel, by  Kathi Appelt, at Cracking the Cover

Pahua and the Soul Stealer, by Lori M. Lee, at Rajiv's Reviews

Prince Dustin and Clara: Legends of the Black Forest by Daniel Lee Nicholson, at Log Cabin Library

River Magic by Ellen Booraem, at Jean Little Library

The Serpent's Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta, at Dead Houseplants

Shadowghast, by Thomas Taylor, at Book Craic

Sisters of the Neversea, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, at A Kids Book A Day

The Wild Way Home, by Sophie Kirtley, at Charlotte's Library

The World Between Blinks, by Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin, at Children's Books Heal

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads-- Mine, by Delilah S. Dawson, Delilah S., and The Thirteenth Cat, by Mary Downing Hahn

10 (!) mini reviews at Golden Books Girl

Authors and Interviews

Emma Mylrea (Curse of the Dearmad) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Amy Wilson (Lightning Falls) at A little but a lot

Sara Pennypacker (Pax-Journey Home) at Middle Grade Ninja Podcast and MG Book Village

Christian McKay Heidicker (Scary Stories for Young Foxes-the City), at Publishers Weekly

Sophie Blackwell (illustrator of The Beatryce Prophecy), at The Children's Book Review

Chris Baron (The Magical Imperfect), at MG Book Village

Betty Fudge (Norm and Ginger Enter the Hidden), at MG Book Village

Cynthia Leitich Smith (Sisters of the Neversea), and Brian Young (Healer of the Water Monster) at SLJ

J. Scott Savage (The Lost Wonderland Diaries) at Leading Edge Magazine

Other Good Stuff

35 Canadian middle-grade books to watch for in fall 2021, including a number of enticing MG SFF, at CBC

I just read about a really cool reading challenge via Silver Button Books--sounds like it's right up our mg sci/fi fantasy alleys!


8/31/21

The Wild Way Home, by Sophie Kirtley, for Timeslip Tuesday

I subjected The Wild Way Home, by Sophie Kirtley, to one of the harshest tests known for a book--I read it on an airplane that took off at 5:40 am, and then finished it in a busy international airport.  It passed this test with flying colors; it was a riveting and moving read!

Charlie  regularly adventures in the scrappy bit of woods near home; it's a far cry from the ancient forests of Ireland, but its landmarks are a huge part of their emotional geography.  When Charlie's much anticipated little brother is born with a heart problem, and everything becomes too unknown and scary to cope with, Charlie runs into the woods....

But though the major landmarks are still there, the woods are not the same familiar place.  

Then Charlie sees an injured boy face down in the stream, and sets to work rescuing him  But the boy is confused, and can't remember what's happened to him.  Communication is difficult; the boy, called Harby, speaks a strangely broken English, and can't understand much of what Charlie is saying.  And so Charlie realizes that time has slipped backwards--these are the woods of early Neolithic Ireland, and Harby is a Stone Age boy.

As his memories begin to come back to him, Harby manages to communicate his desperation to find and save his little sister, and Charlie's thoughts circle around similar anxieties for the little baby in the hospital at home.  The two kids work together to stay alive (there are wolves in the woods, and food must be worked for), and at last Harby is reunited with his sister and father, and Charlie finds the way back home, with a sturdier mindset about the little brother waiting there.

It is a vivid picture of prehistoric life, the friendship and trust that grows between the kids is convincing, and the mechanism of time travel (a deer tooth Charlie has picked up, which turns out to be Harby's most meaningful talisman) is satisfactory.  The mix of contemporary realism and the Stone Age past works really well, and there's enough adventure in the past to keep things moving nicely. What makes the book really sing though is how moving it is.  I was so emotionally invested that I grew teary toward the end, and thought loving thoughts about my own family...(which I do regularly, but not always with such heightened emotion).

And now I look forward lots to reading the follow up story, The Way to Impossible Island, which features Harby's little sister and Charlie's little brother several years later....

(The story is told in the first person, and I read in someone else's review that Charlie is not identified specifically as boy or girl, which I hadn't noticed, and so I've avoided using pronouns here!)

8/29/21

This week's roundup of mg sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (8/29/21)

 Welcome to this last MG sci fi/fantasy round up of summer! (I know it is the end of summer because I am a Keen Observer of signs of seasonal change--my neighbor's "summertime fun" display, which included a giant inflated hotdog, mercifully with bun, has been replaced by "back to school" featuring an enormous inflated crayon, and other scholastic sundries....)

As always, please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Airman, by Eoin Colfer, at Say What?

Cattywampus by Ash Van Otterloo, at Colorful Book Reviews

Dark Waters, by Katherine Arden, at silverbuttonbooks.com

Fireborn by Aisling Fowler, at Book Craic, The Quick and the Read, and rosegold reports

Hatch (The Overthrow #2), by Kenneth Oppel, at Say What?

The Hiddenseek, by Nate Cernosek, at Jill's Book Blog

How I Saved the World In A Week, by Polly Ho-Yen, at Nayu's Reading Corner

The Imaginary Veterinarian #1: The Sasquatch Escape by Suzanne Selfors, at Say What?

Legend Keepers: The Chosen One, by Bruce Smith, at Kid's Lit Book Cafe

Secrets of the Stars, by Maria Kuznia, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

The Smashed Man of Dread End, by J.W. Ocker, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Starclimber (Matt Cruse #3), by Kenneth Oppel, at Say What?

Stowaway, by John David Anderson, at Maria's Melange, Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers, and alibrarymama

Sugar and Spite, by Gail D. Villanueva, at Your Tita Kate

Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff, at proseandkahn 

The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, by Adrianna Cuevas, at The Book Search

Under the Whispering Door, by T.J. Klune, at Hidden In Pages

Utterly Dark and the Face of the Deep, by Philip Reeve, at Big Bearded Bookseller

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods, by Tania Del Rio, illustrated by Will Staehle at Silver Button Books

Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom by Louis Sachar at Geo Librarian

When You Trap a Tiger, by Tae Keller, at Colorful Book Reviews

A Wilder Magic, by Juliana Brandt, at Charlotte's Library

The Wolf's Curse, by Jessica Vitalis, at Class of 2K21

Two at orange marmalade--How to Save the Universe Without Really Trying, by John Cusick, and Malamander, by Thomas Taylor


Authors and Interviews

Jamie Russell  (Skywake Invastion), at Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books

Lindsay Eagar (The Patron Thief of Bread) at Pop! Goes the Reader 

Piers Torday (The Wild Before) at A little but a lot

Alysa Wishingrad  (The Verdigris Pawn), at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books


Other Good (but also a little sad) Stuff

Jill Murphy, children’s author and illustrator, dies aged 72, at The Guardian

A life well-drawn: illustrations by Jill Murphy – in pictures, at The Guardian

‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’: Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay’s Excellent Adventure With Disney+ Series, at Nerdophiles

and finally, the deadline for applying to be a Cybils Judge ends Sept.1--come join me in reading all the best elementary/mg speculative fiction of the past year (books published between Oct. 16, 2020 to Oct. 15, 2021)


8/25/21

A Wilder Magic, by Juliana Brandt


I have been so tired and distracted these past few weeks, getting two kids off to school (one in Ireland, one in New York), which has involved a great deal of effort, fuss, and soul-killing worry...so though I've read a lot of great books recently, I haven't gotten to writing reviews for a while.  Which is distressing, because they were great books!  So I am turning from all my usual distractions to actually write a post for one I haven't seen any other blog reviews of yet-- A Wilder Magic, by Juliana Brandt (middle grade, May 2021, Sourcebooks).

Sybaline's family has lived in their Appalachian valley for generations.  It's no ordinary valley, but one infused with magic that has become entwined with the family.  They draw on the magic to help the course of nature along, working with it to grow and to heal.  But their valley is doomed.  The Tennessee Valley Authority is building a hydroelectric dam that will flood it, and they must move.  This won't just destroy their homes and cemeteries and other beloved places, but will sunder them from the magic...

And so Sybaline says no.  

Drawing on magic to work against the course of nature has consequences; serious ones, that ended up turning her grandfather into a tree, for instance.  But Sybaline is blinded by desperation, and so instead of leaving, she goes down into the valley and raises a wall of water around it, creating a place where she and her cousin Nettle can live.  

Things don't go as Sybaline expected.  At first there is food and shelter, but as the water keeps rising, a design flaw emerges.  Sybaline has magiced up not walls, but a dome...and when the water covers the dome, the two girls are plunged into the darkness one finds at the bottom of a deep lake.  They are not in a sanctuary, but in a trap, and to make matters worse, three other kids got stuck inside too.

Stuck in the dark, with a limited food supply, water being pushed up by the outside pressure through the ground, and the cold becoming increasingly severe, it is clear that they must escape.  But in order to break the magic, Sybaline and Nettle must draw on all the magic of the valley they can, even though there already signs that the magic is transforming them...

I am a huge fan of survival stories, and though "survival story" is perhaps not the main point of the book, it is still one that will appeal lots to fellow fans. All the elements I enjoy are here--the food foraging, the group figuring out how to work together, the growing anxiety and desperation...and the magical twist that has put the kids into this situation makes it especially interesting!

Thematically it is more than "survival story." It's a story of growing-up, of learning to be answerable to your powers, to face fears and uncertainties instead of running backwards to avoid them.  It hurt to see Sybaline dealing with the lose of childhood security (made even more painful by her father being off in the war), but this hurt was soothed by her arrival at acceptance, and a reassurance that family was still family.  It's also a story of living in balance with the natural world (complicated in this case by the natural world being magic).

I enjoyed Julian Brandt's debut, The Wolf of Cape Fen (my review), very much, and this one did not disappoint!

nb:  A Wilder Magic is one of the many great elementary/middle grade specultative fiction eligible for the Cybils Awards this year; come join the Cybils team as an EMG Spec Fic panelist to read lots of them and try to pick which ones have the most kid appeal and literary merit combined in one package!


8/22/21

This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and science fiction from around the blogs etc (8/22/21)

I type this in Rhode Island, wondering if Henri is going to offer more than gentle rains and a light breeze, and still recovering from the excitements of the past two weeks (tagging along with my oldest, who will be in Ireland for the semester, on a jaunt through that pleasant country, and then coming home and getting my youngest to college for his freshman year, and then of course making sure my house was hurricane ready....).  So I have no reviews to offer.

But I do have something--a post urging all of you who read these Sunday posts to consider applying to be panelists in the Cybils Awards!  It really is worthwhile.


The Reviews

The Clockwork Crow, by Catherine Fisher, at The Children's Book Review

Da Vinci's Cat, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, at Fantasy Literature

The Dog Who Saved the World, by Ross Welford, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Escape From Aurora (Frostheart #2), by Jamie Littler, at Evelyn Reads


Ghost Girl, by Ally Malinenko, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Girl and the Witch’s Garden, by Erin Bowman, at Pages Unbound 

Gloom Town, by Ronald L. Smith, at Colorful Book Reviews

Much Ado About Baseball, by Rajani LaRocca, at The New York Times

The Other Side of the Whale Road, by K.A. Hayton, at Elli Mai Blogs and Rajiv's Reviews

Root Magic, by Eden Royce, at proseandkahn

Skybreaker (Matt Cruse #2),  by Kenneth Oppel, at Say What?

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel, by Sheelah Chari, at Say What? 

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, by Tania Del Rio, illustrated by Will Staehle, at Silver Button Books

Well Witched, by Frances Hardinge, at Pages Unbound

When Days Tilt (Time Catchers #1), Karen Ginnane, at The Book Muse

The Wild Before, by Piers Torday, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads 

Willodeen, by Katherine Applegate, at Beagles and Books

The Year I Flew Away, by Marie Arnold, at The Washington Post

Authors and Interviews

Stephanie Burgis (The Raven Heir) and Amy Wilson (Lightning Falls) in conversation with The Reader Teacher (on You Tube)

Christyne Morrell (Kingdom of Secrets), at Literary Rambles (with giveaway)

Mahtab Narsimhan (Valley of the Rats), at Middle Grade Book Village


8/18/21

Five reasons why you might want to apply to be a Cybils judge in elementary/middle grade speculative fiction!



The call for this years Cybils Awards panelists has gone out, and anyone who reviews or talks about kids and ya books on line (blog, you tube, Goodreads, etc.) is welcome to apply to be part of the fun and excitement!

The Cybils Awards includes many different categories of books (ranging from picture books to YA fiction), and each category has it's own set of panelists. The first round panelists narrow all the nominated books down to a shortlist of 5-7 books, and then a second group had to pick the final winner. Anyone in the world can nominate a book in each category; some categories end up with lots of books and some with fewer (elementary/middle grade speculative fiction is around 110-130, on the higher end).

So in essence, the first round involves lots and lots of reading, and lots of emails exchanged with co-panelists chatting in a friendly and companionable way about what we like, what we don't like, what we find amusing, what we find irritating, and how hard it will be to narrow it down to seven books. In the second round, with only seven books, there's less banter and more intense thought about the relative merits of the books. The two criteria we use in judging are good writing and lots of appeal for the target audience (diversity is not a explicit criteria, but does factor in to the target audience appeal).

I'm the category chair for elementary/middle grade speculative fiction (roughly books for 8-12 year olds), and if you are reading my blog, this might well be the group of books that you enjoy the most too! I am always so happy to welcome new folks into the judging, and so to encourage you who haven't done it before, I offer--

Five reasons why you might want to apply to be a Cybils judge in elementary/middle grade speculative fiction!

1. The books are really really good this year. (I say this every year, and every year it is true, but this year they are perhaps even really, really, really good).

2. It makes fall a lot more fun when you are a first round panelist. I love the excitement of the nomination period, the fun of marking books read in the spreadsheet, the wild placing of library holds  and the arrival of review copies (mostly digital these days, but some still physical). I love having a forum in which I can honestly share with no holding back what I really think about books; it is very companionable.

3. You will find new authors to love, and you will become extremely knowledgeable about the middle grade spec. fic. books of the past year.

4. You will make new friends and quite possibly be inspired to review more.

5. As the category organizer, assembling the panels is part of my job, so this reason why you should apply is somewhat selfish. I want lots and lots of people to apply so that I can have new participants along with reliable veterans, and so that the panels can have lots of different view points represented. I take up one of the seven available slots in the first round because I'm the Lead Reader, but that still leaves six, and five more for the second round....

If you still have doubts, let me reassure you that it is less work than you might think!

There will probably be around 120 books nominated in EMG Spec Fic. This might seem like a lot of books to read, but remember, you'll probably have read a fair number of them already (if you haven't, you must not like MG spec fic, so you wouldn't be applying). Also each book only Has to be read by 2 panelists, and since I plan to read all the books, that takes pressure off of others. And also if it is clear to you before finishing a book that you could not support it being shortlisted, you don't have to finish it but can still mark it as read.

Though the nominating period ends October 15, you can start reading just as soon as you get the invitation email from me in mid September, giving you three and half months for reading (the shortlists must be assembled by the end of December). On the other hand, if you are having a baby, starting a new job, planning on spending the month of December snowbound with no internet access, or moving house this fall, the second round might be a better fit for you!

Things that I look for when gathering panelists:

Obviously, I really want people who know and love EMG Spec Fic; this is the most important thing to demonstrate when you apply! (Do not include a link to a review in which you say "I don't really like middle grade fiction, but I liked this book" or some such, which really has happened a few times in the past). I want a mix of parents, educators, librarians, and authors. I want a range of viewpoints; I'd love diverse panelists. . And I want panelists who are able to think clearly and critically about what makes for a good mg spec fic book and who are willing to enjoy sharing their opinions.

So here's the link to the application page on the Cybils website. Please apply! (you get to put three categories you're interested in, ranked...you could put EMG spec fic for all three if you wanted.  Nb--picture books are the most popular first pick; graphic novels and High School non-fiction always would welcome more applicants.  EMG spec fic is somewhere in the middle....

If you are on the fence about applying, please feel free to email me at charlotteslibrary at gmail.com with any questions or concerns.

8/15/21

This week's round-up of mg sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (8/15/21)

Nothing from me this week, except this picture of the mg sci fi/fantasy book I bought in Ireland last week (it is so much fun to see all the different books for sale in other countries!)


Happily other folks wrote about emg sff!  As always, please let me know if I missed your post and I'll I'll put it in.

The Reviews

Arcade and the Triple T Token (Coin Slot Chronicles #1) by Rashad Jennings, at Colorful Book Reviews

Dog Squad, by Chris Grabenstein, at Ms. Yingling Reads


Fly by Night, by Frances Hardinge, at Pages Unbound

The Gilded Girl, by Alyssa Colman, at Mom Read It

The Girl and the Witch's Garden by Erin Bowman at Jean Little Library

Homer on the Case, by Henry Cole, at Redeemed Reader

The Last Shadow Warrior by Sam Subity, at Say What?

Mission Multiverse, by Rebecca Caprara, at Ms. Yingling Reads

The Other Side of Luck, by  Ginger Johnson, at Cracking the Cover

The Plentiful Darkness, by Heather Kassner, at The Bookwyrm's Den and Eli to the nth

Rea and the Blood of the Nectar, by  Payal Doshi, at  A Dance With Books 

When the Sea Turned to Silver, by Grace Lin, at Colorful Book Reviews

The World Between Blinks, by Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin, at Middle Grade Mojo

Two at alibrarymama--Much Ado about Baseball, by Rajani LaRocca, and Ophie's Ghosts, by Justina Ireland

Authors and Interviews

John David Anderson (Stowaway) at Middle Grade Ninja and Nerdy Book Club

Jessica Vitalis (The Wolf's Curse) at MG Book Village


Other Good Stuff

What's new in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

The New Zealand Book Award Winners have been announced, and the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year is  Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature from the Sea, by T K Roxborogh

The Dragon Awards Finalists for YA/MG--

8/8/21

on vacation this week...

 ....bookshopping in Ireland, so no round-up!  I'll try to do one for next week.

8/3/21

Yesterday Is History, by Kosoko Jackson, for Timeslip Tuesday

This week's time travel book is Yesterday Is History, by Kosoko Jackson (February 2021, Sourcebooks Fire).  It's a very readable and enjoyable gay YA romance, in which time travel serves to complicate a black teenager's life and loves.

Andre has come through cancer, with a new liver received from a young man who died in a car accident.  He's ready to charge back into his life of academic success, complicated by all the school he missed.  But along with the liver, he got something he couldn't have predicted-- a trip to his childhood home back in the 1960s.  There he meets Michael, a guy a little older, friendly, cute, and insightful as heck.   Andre has no clue how this has happened, until the family of the liver donor reaches out.  

Turns out that young man was a time traveler, from a family of time travelers.  And now Andre is one too.  Blake, the younger son, didn't inherit the gene, but his parents assign him to teach Andre the rules of time travelling.  This is a heck of complicated situation for Blake, for a variety of understandable personal reasons, and it's further complicated when he finds himself falling for Andre..

But Andre has been going back to the past to meet Michael again, and they fall in love.  And even though he could imagine easily falling for Blake, what he shares with Michael can't just be dismissed.

Andre wants to make everything ok for Blake (hurting in the present) and for Michael (hurting in the past), but that's impossible, even with time travel. And after lots of internal struggle and another brush with death, he sets out to live his best life in the present.

So time travel is a mechanism for the romance plot, and that's fine, but it's a bit disappointing that except for one hop back to the Titanic, which we don't even get to experience through Andre's point of view, there's just trips back to see Michael (and it was really frustrating that Andre doesn't get Michael to promise always to use a condom, though mercifully we find that Michael doesn't die of AIDS).  

Andre grows up a lot because of his experience in the past though, realizing that instead of just drifting along with parental expectations (in this case, medical school), it's better to find your own passion.  Believably, he doesn't in fact find his (except romantically), but it's a good message for teens regardless. 

It was really nice to read about a likeable gay boy supported by his family finding love!  So read it for that, not because you like time travel, which exists here primarily in the service of romantic entanglement (that being said, the time travel did a good job making the entanglement interesting!)



8/1/21

This week's round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy from around the blogs (8/1/21)

Happy August to us all....

Here's what I found in my internet searching this week; please let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

15 Minutes, by Steve Young, at Charlotte's Library

The Beatryce Prophecy, by Kate DiCamillo, at Rosi Hollinbeck

Begone the Raggedy Witches, by Celine Kiernan, at Rajiv's Reviews

Bridge of Souls, by Victoria Schwab, at  The Zen Leaf

The Broken Raven (Shadow Skye #2), by Joseph Elliott, at Log Cabin Library

Cogheart, by Peter Bunzl, at Rajiv's Reviews

The Crackledawn Dragon, by Abi Elphinstone, at Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Crowfall, by Vashti Hardy, at Library Girl and Book Boy

Dead Wednesday,  by Jerry Spinelli, at Susan the Librarian

Edie and the Box of Flits, by Kate Wilkinson, at Book Craic

Homer on the Case, by Henry Cole, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Josephine Against the Sea, by Shakirah Bourne, at WOC Read

The Library of Ever and Rebel in the Library of Ever, by Zeno Alexander, at AMB

The Magic Factory (Oliver Blue and the School for Seers #1) by Morgan Rice, at Say What?

The Nightmare Thief, by Nicole Lesperance, at Pages Unbound

One Jar of Magic, by Corey Ann Haydu, at Not Acting My Age

Ophie's Ghosts, by Justina Ireland, at Charlotte's Library

A Problematic Paradox, by Eliot Sappingfield at Puss Reboots

The Raven Heir, by Stephanie Burgis, at Read and Reviewed

The Remarkables, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Say What?

Shadowghast, by Thomas Taylor, at Library Chicken

Stowaway (Icarus Chronicles #1), by John David Anderson, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Weird Kid, by Greg Van Eekhout, at Ms. Yingling Reads

Willow of Dark Hollow, by Robert Beatty, at Rachel A. Greco

The Wolf’s Curse, by Jessica Vitalis, at Pages Unbound

The Way to Impossible Island, by Sophie Kirtley, at Book Craic

Five Mg Fantasy books, at Beautifully Bookish Bethany (you-tube)


Authors and Interviews

Ben Gartner (People of the Sun) at MG Book Village

John David Anderson (Stowaway) at Fuse #8

Greg Van Eekhout (Weird Kid) at Whatever and Fuse #8





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