The Keeper of the Lost Cities Series by Shannon Messenger

shannon-messengerMeet Shannon Messenger, author of my all-time favorite middle grade, fantasy/dystopian series, The Keeper of the Lost Cities, and published by  Aladdin. There are five books in the series to date, with her most recent November 1 release, Lodestar. An ambitious undertaking for Messenger, book six is being written for 2017. This will please her multi-gender and global fans. The book covers are gorgeous!

Parents and grandparents, this series would make an exciting holiday gift for the tweens and teens in your lives. And they will thank you for the introduction. I recommend you start with the first book, The Keeper of the Lost Cities, before you move on to Exile, Everblaze, Neverseen and Lodestar.

Shannon Messenger is a master storyteller. Her writing is powerful and richly textured. The settings are vividly creative and capture a new magical world. Her adventure series keep readers engaged from the start, much like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Once you start a book, you are drawn into her magic until you have read the entire book.

The plots are multi-layered, courageous, complicated, gripping and packed with thrilling adventures. Her stories are not predictable and readers won’t have a clue of what happens next because of the many cliff hangers. Sometimes my brain hurts as I wonder how in the world Messenger manages to tease and eventually outsmart me with her twists and turns. This is a unique character-driven series with Sophie and her friends Fitz, Keefe, Dex, and Biana who all possess special abilities. These are characters you will love and root for as they take on many dangerous adventures. And, there is diversity with elves, dwarves, goblins, ogres, and many magical creatures.  Enough from me. I want to share a brief publisher synopsis of each book to give you a sense of this brilliant series.

keeper-of-the-lost-516tqvac1sl__sx331_bo1204203200_Synopsis Book 1: Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She is a Telepath, and has a unique ability to hear the thoughts of everyone around her — something that she’s never known how to explain, and has made her an outcast, even in her own family. But everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s somewhere she does belong, and staying where she is will put her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind her family on earth and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from her own. She’s taken to a  parallel Elvin world where mystical creatures are protected and thrive. And she is startled to learn that she is an Elf. Sophie has new rules and skills to learn, a new school to attend, and not everyone is thrilled with her “homecoming.” There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory, secrets that other people desperately want. Sophie must figure out why she is the key to her brand-new world—before the wrong person finds the answer first and would even kill for…

exile-51hbosuywtl__sx333_bo1204203200_jpgSynopsis Book 2: Sophie Foster thought she was safe. Settled in to her home at Havenfield, surrounded by friends, and using her unique telepathic abilities to train Silveny — the first female alicorn ever seen in the Lost Cities — her life finally seems to coming together.

But Sophie’s kidnappers are still out there. And when Sophie discovers new messages and clues from the mysterious Black Swan group, she’s forced to take a terrifying risk — one that puts everyone in incredible danger.

In this second book in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Sophie must uncover hidden memories as long-buried secrets rise to the surface, before someone close to her is lost forever…

everblaze-untitledSynopsis Book 3: Sophie’s talents are getting stronger, and with the elusive Black Swan group ignoring her calls for help, she’s determined to find her kidnappers — before the come after her again.

But a daring mistake leaves the Lost Cities teetering on the edge of war — and causes many to fear that Sophie has finally gone too far. With her world turned against her, Sophie is forced to rely on her friends, even though it means putting their lives in danger. And the deeper they search, the farther the conspiracy stretches, proving that Sophie’s most deadly enemy might be closer than she realizes.  Sophie must fight the flames of rebellion before they destroy everyone and everything she loves.

neverseen-51lg2iodwal__sx334_bo1204203200_Synopsis Book 4: Sophie Foster is on the run — but at least she’s not alone. Her closest friends from the Lost Cities have gone with her to join the Black Swan. They still have doubts about the answers is to start working with them. As they settle into their new lives, they uncover secrets far bigger than anything they’d imagined.

But their enemies are  far from done, unleashing a terrifying plague that threatens the safety of an entire species. Sophie and her friends fight with everything they have — including aid from new allies joining them — but every choice has consequences. And trusting the wrong person could prove deadly. In this game-changing book, Sophie must question everything to find a truth that will either save her world — or shatter it.

lodestar-51j59ndelpl__sx331_bo1204203200_Synopsis Book 5: Sophie is back in the Lost Cities– but the Lost Cities have changed. The threat of war hangs heavy over her glittering world. And the Neverseen are wreaking havoc where they can. The lines between friend and enemy have also blurred, and Sophie is unsure exactly whom she can trust. But when she’s warned that the people she loves most will be the next victims, she knows she has to act.

A mysterious symbol could be the key — if only she knew how to translate it. And each new clue reveals how far the dark schemes spread. The black Swan aren’t the only ones who have plans. The Neverseen have their own Initiative, and if Sophie doesn’t stop it, they might finally have the ultimate means to control her. Loyalties are pushed to the limit as the villains twist the game into something Sophie might not have the talent to win.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she studied art, screenwriting and film production.  She realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the bestselling author of this middle-grade series and the Sky Fall series for young adults. Her books have been published in numerous countries and translated into ten different languages. Visit Shannon Messenger online at her website. She also hosts a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post where  bloggers share links to their favorite middle grade books.

The Brave Little Puppy by Lori Evert

brave-little-puppy-513orm7vwtl__sx448_bo1204203200_The Brave Little Puppy

Lori Evert, Author

Per Breiehagen, Photographer

Random House Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 2 – 5   Board Book

Themes: Nordic Christmas Tale, Lost puppy, Nature, Animals, Friends

Opening: “This is Anja’s puppy. His name is Birki.”

Synopsis: In this Nordic Christmas tale, Anja’s puppy is very curious. When Anja takes Birki for a ride in the basket of her sled, she doesn’t notice that her puppy falls out when she hits a bump. Brave and adorable Birki is lost and must find his way back to Anja. He sets off in the deep snow to follow Anja’s trail. Birki makes many new woodland friends on his journey — a polar bear, a wolf, a squirrel, a lynx and reindeer — who help him find his way to Anja.

Why I like this book:

Lori Evert and her photographer husband, Per Breiehagen, are back with another wintry 18th century Nordic adventure with their daughter, Anja, and her puppy, Birki. This tale is a board book for small hands. With simple and engaging text appropriate for young children, The Brave Little Puppy is a visual treasure, perfect for reading aloud and sharing at bedtime. Award-winning photographer Breiehagen captures the breathtaking and enchanting snow-covered landscapes, the wildlife and the touching moments between Anja and Birki.  This is another beautiful collaborative holiday offering by this husband-wife team, and their daughter Anja.

The Brave Little Puppy is the fourth book in The Wish Book series: The Christmas Wish, The Tiny Wish and The Reindeer Wish. Click on The Christmas Wish website to view enlarged photos from all the books. The three books will be made into a movies, starting with The Christmas Wish in 2017.

Resources: Visit Random House Kids for more information about The Wish Books.  Children can select their favorite photos from the books and send holiday e-cards to friends and family. They can download  and print selected photographs from the books and make their own holiday cards and ornaments. There is a video and other special activities for children.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Christmas Wish14858500_201309121500the-tiny-wish9780385379229_p0_v3_s260x420The Reindeer Wish51K66-2f6xL._SX389_BO1,204,203,200_brave-little-puppy-513orm7vwtl__sx448_bo1204203200_

Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg

sweet-home-alaska-untitledSweet Home Alaska

Carole Estby Dagg, Author

Nancy Paulsen Books, Fiction, Feb. 2, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 10 and up

Pages: 291

Themes: Great Depression, FDR New Deal Colony, Frontier and pioneer life, Alaska, Moving, Family life

Book Jacket Synopsis: Terpsichore and her family are going to be pioneers in Alaska! Times have been tough in Wisconsin during the Great Depression, and she’s eager to make a new start. Terpsichore has often dreamed about living like Laura Ingalls Wilder, but the reality of their new home is a shock. The town is still under construction, the mosquitoes are huge, and when a mouse eats her shoelace, causing her to fall on her first day of school, everyone learns the nickname she had hoped to leave behind: Trip.

Despite all this, Terpsichore falls in love with Alaska — and her sparkling, can-do spirit is a perfect match for the wilderness. When she discovers there is no library, she helps start one, and with the aid of the long hours of summer sunshine, she’s able to grow killer vegetables. With all these achievements, Terpsichore is sure she’ll be earning a new nickname in no time! The only problem is her homesick mom, who misses polite society. Terpsichore is determined to stay put, so she hatches a plan to convince her mother that Alaska can be a wonderful, civilized home…a plan that’s going to take all the love, energy, and Farmer Boy expertise she can muster.

Why I like this book:

Carole Estby Dagg writes a powerful story about the Great Depression and the 202 families that risked everything to settle Alaska’s real-life Palmer Colony in 1934. This lively and authentic story is about the harsh realities of life and work for any homesteader, let alone 11-year-old Terpsichore (Terp-sick-oh-ree) Johnson and her family. Dagg expertly explores the meaning of family relationships, friendships, hardship, pioneer cooperation, faith and home.

The setting is so realistic that readers will feel that they are living with Terpsichore a drafty tent city, traipsing through thick mud, slapping huge mosquitos, shivering through frigid weather and dealing with smelly outhouses. The plot is original and moves swiftly as the Johnson family claim and clear their land, build a log home, barn, and chicken coups, and plant their gardens. Life is harsh and full of obstacles. There is disease, loss and homesickness, but there is the midnight sun that reveals a beautiful landscape and grows very large vegetables.

Great characters make a book and Dagg has succeeded with Terpsichore, who is a brave, resilient, determined and independent narrator.  Her voice and spirit are strong. Although she may not have her twin sisters singing talent, Terpsichore makes a contribution that benefits the entire pioneer colony. She starts a library with the help of her two new friends,  Gloria and Mendel. They contact churches, scout groups, the Red Cross for books and supplies. When the colony needs a doctor and hospital, Terpsichore helps her mother send a telegram to Eleanor Roosevelt, who responds to their needs.

Sweet Home Alaska gives  readers an eye-opening glimpse into a portion of Alaska’s history they know little about.  Make sure you check out the Author’s Note about the early settlers of Palmer, Alaska, in the Matanuska Valley. She also includes some of Terpsichore’s Alaskan recipes and a list of resources. There is a lot of history packed into this novel, making it an excellent book for the classroom.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music by Darlene Foster

amanda-danube-51v70ddl03l__sx311_bo1204203200_Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, Fiction, Oct. 1, 2016

Pages: 120

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Travel, Adventure, Blue Danube, Riverboat, Mystery, Homeless boy, Violin

Book Jacket Synopsis:  Twelve-year-old Amanda Ross finds herself on an elegant riverboat with her bestie, Leah, cruising down the beautiful Danube, passing medieval castles, luscious green valleys and charming villages. When she is  entrusted with a valuable violin by a young, homeless musician during a stop in Germany, a mean boy immediately tries to take it from her.

Back on their cruise, Amanda struggle to keep the precious violin safe for the poor prodigy. Along the way, she meets a mysterious monk, a Santa Claus look-alike, and the same nasty boy.

Follow Amanda down the Danube, through Germany, Austria and Hungry, as she enjoys the enchanting sounds of music everywhere she goes. She remains on the lookout though wondering just who she can trust.

Why I like this book:

Darlene Foster has penned a lively adventure story for young readers who enjoy traveling and solving a good mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series won’t be disappointed with this fast-paced book which will keep them engaged and quickly turning pages to discover what happens next. Amanda is an upbeat, inquisitive, caring and memorable character that teens will want to befriend — especially since she has keen radar and is ready to solve a good mystery. Leah spends a lot time texting her friends at home, which annoys Amanda.

Readers will also learn a little history, geography and a few German expressions as they cruise along the beautiful Blue Danube River and visit Nuremberg, Regensburg, Melk, Vienna and Budapest. Amanda and Leah explore castles, cathedrals, graveyards, and museums. They learn about Mozart, sample local cuisine and shop for teddy bears at the Steiff store.

Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music, is the fifth book in the Amanda Travels series:  Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel; and Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone.  I recommend you start with the first book, but the Foster has written the books in such a manner that they can be read in any order.

Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch in southern Alberta. She dreamt of writing, travelling the world and meeting interesting people. She also believes everyone is capable of making their dreams come true. It’s no surprise that she’s now the award-winning author of a children’s adventure series about a travelling twelve-year-old-girl.  A world-traveler herself, Darlene spends her time in Vancouver, Canada and Costa Blanca in Spain. Visit her Darlene Foster at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty

beautiful-61bxdy9hkul__sy429_bo1204203200_Beautiful

Stacy McAnulty, Author

Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, Illustrator

Running Press Kids, Fiction, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 3-8

Themes: Girls, Defying stereotypes, Gender equality, Empowerment, Potential

Opening: “Beautiful girls…have the perfect look.”

Synopsis: “Every girl is unique, talented, and lovable. . . .Every girl is BEAUTIFUL.”

Much more than how one looks on the outside, true beauty is found in conquering challenges, showing kindness, and spreading contagious laughter. Beautiful girls are empowered and smart and strong!

BEAUTIFUL breaks barriers by showing girls free to be themselves: splashing in mud, conducting science experiments, and reading books under a flashlight with friends. This book will encourage all girls to embrace who they are and realize their endless potential.

Why I like this book:

There is everything to love about Beautiful.  It is not your stereotypical “sugar and spice” picture book about girls. These girls have substance and they aren’t afraid to get dirty and smelly.  They play sports, plant gardens, play pirates in ponds, study insects and tinker with gadgets. This story is a refreshing and more realistic portrayal of girls. They are happy and embrace themselves for who they are.

Although McAnulty’s minimal text describes the girls as graceful, having the perfect look, smiling sweetly, smelling like flowers and having a smart style, Lew-Vriethoff’s illustrations paint a different picture. Her bold and colorful  artwork is racially diverse and shows girls of different sizes wearing glasses and braces, or playing basketball in wheelchairs.

Beautiful celebrates girls for their individuality. It is a story about personal empowerment and it will encourage girls to realize their endless potential. It is uplifting and makes you smile at these independent little girls who play with abandonment. This also is a good book to share with boys.

Resources: This is a perfect classroom discussion book for all young children. Use Beautiful to start a conversation about how girls and boys see each other. Can girls put worms on hooks? Can boys jump rope? Talk about breaking gender roles. Ask children what it means to be beautiful.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan

the-poets-dog-51gd-tehrml__sx331_bo1204203200_The Poet’s Dog

Patricia MacLachlan, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Fiction, Sep. 13, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 6-10, Grades 1-5

Pages: 88

Themes: Dog, Lost children, Winter storm, Love, Loss, Friendship

Opening: “I found the boy at dusk. The blizzard was fierce, and it would soon be dark. I could barely see him with the snow blowing sideways. He stood at the edge of the icy pond, shivering.”

Publisher Synopsis: Teddy is a gifted dog. Raised in a cabin by a poet named Sylvan, he grew up listening to sonnets read aloud and the comforting clicking of a keyboard. Although Teddy understands words, Sylvan always told him there are only two kinds of people in the world who can hear Teddy speak: poets and children.

Then one day Teddy learns that Sylvan was right. When Teddy finds Nickel and Flora trapped in a snowstorm, he tells them that he will bring them home—and they understand him. The children are afraid of the howling wind, but not of Teddy’s words. They follow him to a cabin in the woods, where the dog used to live with Sylvan . . . only now his owner is gone.

As they hole up in the cabin for shelter, Teddy is flooded with memories of Sylvan. What will Teddy do when his new friends go home? Can they help one another find what they have lost?

Why I like this book:

Patricia MacLachlan’s book is a magical tale that will warm the hearts of readers from the first page. It is a story about Nickel and Flora, who are rescued during a storm by Teddy, an Irish wolfhound.  It is quiet and cozy story about how they help each other survive loss and find love.

The prose is lyrical and simple for older elementary children. The chapters are short. The beautiful narrative is in Teddy’s voice, as we learn about his great love for his master, Sylvan, who has died. Teddy is in mourning and sleeps in the barn until he finds Nickel and Flora and takes them to Sylvan’s cabin. Nickel is a protective older brother. He takes care of the firewood, shovels snow paths and goes outside with Teddy to the barn.  Nora takes over the food preparation with food is stocked in the cabin. They enjoy being on their own with Teddy in the cabin. It becomes an adventure. And their presence helps Teddy deal with his loss as he shares his beautiful memories of Sylvan and their relationship. The plot and the pacing are perfect for the age group. The message is a bit complex for young children.  The ending is satisfying and uplifting.

This is an endearing read from a wonderful storyteller. Parents will enjoy reading The Poet’s Dog to younger children. However, older children will be able to read it on their own. This is a book worth reading for both young and old alike.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

Princess Rosie’s Rainbows by Bette Killion

Princess Rosie51j68JTFCaL__SX399_BO1,204,203,200_Princess Rosie’s Rainbows

Bette Killion, Author

Kim Jacobs, Illustrator

Wisdom Tales, Fiction, Oct. 7, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Fairy Tales, Princesses, Happiness, Rainbows

Opening: “Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom there lived a loving King and Queen. They ruled in a magical land where rainbows stretched from peak to ocean. Each day they wished for a child to share their castle.”

Synopsis: On the day the princess was born, a full rainbow spanned the kingdom. The King and Queen named their daughter the Princess of Rose-colored Light. But everyone called her Princess Rosie. She grew up loving rainbows and was happiest when they appeared in the sky. On the days no rainbows appeared, her smile turned into a frown and she felt sad. Princess Rosie had everything she could ever want — a dog, books, music, toys and games — but what she really wanted was a forever rainbow. Her father offered his people a bag of gold if anyone could bring the princess a forever rainbow. Visitors from other lands traveled to the castle with rainbows made of silk, glass, and jewels. Some were pictures in books, banners you could wave and food you could eat.  But Princess Rosie wanted a real rainbow. Her parents wondered if their daughter would ever be happy again. One day a wise woman from the farthest village arrived to talk with the princess. Perhaps she held the secret to making Rosie smile again.

Why I like this book:

Bette Killion’s original fairy tale is a captivating read at bedtime. It will engage children as they try to figure out what is a forever rainbow and what will make Princess Rosie happy if the royal riches don’t make her smile. This beautiful tale packs a powerful message for children about the source of true and lasting happiness lies within. This is an important lesson for children to learn at a young age. The text is written in prose and children will find the language appealing in this memorable tale.

You can tell by the book cover that Kim Jacobs’ illustrations are stunning and magical. Each illustration is intricately detailed and will whisk children’s imaginations to another period in time. The soft, warm pastels compliment the story. This is a beautiful collaboration between author and illustrator.

Resources: Have a discussion with children about what makes them happy. Is it something that is material and they will tire of or is something uniquely special that makes them feel warm inside and last forever. There is a simple science lesson at the end of the book about rainbows and how to make your own rainbow.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.