The Castle in the Mist by Amy Ephron

The Castle in the Mist

Amy Ephron, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, Feb. 7, 2017

Pages: 167

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Castles, Wishes, Magic, Family relationships, Siblings

Book Synopsis:

Tess and her brother, Max, are sent for the summer to their aunt’s sleepy village in the English countryside, where excitement is as rare as a good wifi signal. So when Tess stumbles upon an old brass key that unlocks an ornately carved gate, attached to a strangely invisible wall, she jumps at the chance for adventure. And the world beyond the gate doesn’t disappoint. She finds rose gardens, a maze made of hedges, and a boy named William who is just as lonely as she is.

But at William’s castle, strange things begin to happen. Carnival games are paid for in wishes, dreams seem to come alive, and then there’s William’s eerie warning: Beware of the hawthorn trees. A warning that chills Tess to the bone.

In a magical, fantasy world that blurs the line between reality and imagination, readers are left to wonder exactly what they’d wish for if wishes could come true. Perfect for fans of Half Magic and The Secret Garden—and for anyone who’s ever wondered if magic is real.

Why I like this book:

Amy Ephron’s world building in this fantasy is magical and readers will feel like they’re in the middle of the action. I was enchanted with the idea of a huge castle hidden in the mist behind an invisible wall that can’t be penetrated. The grounds are large and beautiful with a pond with swans, a hedge maze, an odd sculpture garden, a carousel and stables.

Tess and Max are the grounding factors in the fantasy. They are separated from their parents, having finished boarding school in Switzerland and then sent to their Aunt Evie’s for the summer. Like most siblings they have their squabbles, but they have a strong bond and depend upon one another. William is the lonely and mysterious boy who lives at the castle. He warns Tess from the start to stay away from the Hawthorne trees, but never explains why. Tess and Max wonder about William’s identity and the odd things that happen at the castle. William introduces the siblings to a world where they question the real from the imagined and wonder “did that just happen?”

The entire story is an enjoyable fantasy from beginning to end. The plot is imaginative and fast-paced. There are unexpected twists, like the scenes surrounding the carousel and the overlapping blue, blood and super moons that occur together that influence the story. My only wish was that the book had been a little longer. The book ends with the potential for a sequel. However, Ephron has written a companion book, Carnival Magic, with Tess and Max returning in a new summer adventure with Aunt Evie. It will be released May 1, 2018.

Amy Ephron is the internationally bestselling author of several books written for adults, including the award-winning A  Cup of Tea. She is also a film producer, an essayist, and a contributor to Vogue and Vogue.com. The Castle in the Mist is her first book for children. You can visit Amy at her website.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Author Shannon Messenger will be on a whirlwind tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which will be released November 7. Thank you Greg!

The Three Sunflowers – Los Tres Girasoles by Janet Lucy

The Three Sunflowers – Los Tres Girasoles

Janet Lucy, Author

Colleen McCarthy-Evans, Illustrator

Publishing by the Seas, Fiction, Sep. 26, 2017

Awards: Seal of Excellence for an Educational Storybook and a Preferred Choice Award for a Kids, Storybook from Creative Child Magazine.

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes:  Sunflowers, Life Cycles, Nature, Courage,  Hope, Harmony, Peace, Patience, Wisdom

Opening“Dawn awoke early one morning washing the summer sky in fresh new shades of pink, orange and lavender.” 

Synopsis:  Life in the garden was alive with activity. Gloria, a tall and wise sunflower, sprung up earlier in the season near a pepper tree. She was once a black and white seed in one of the bird feeders and was dropped by a bird to the ground where she planted herself and grew. Two smaller sunflowers, Florecita and Solecito grew beside Gloria.

Their day was peaceful until a hawk swooped down to the feeders and disturbed the tranquility in the garden. The birds flew off, but Florecita and Solecito were frightened and shouted at the hawk.  Through it all, Gloria guides and reassures the youngsters and reminds them of the nature and purpose of a sunflower’s life. “We are sunflowers, golden and radiant. Our job is to be loving and peaceful wherever we stand.” Peace returned to the garden, but later that afternoon a thunderstorm darkened the skies and threatened the strength and stability of the sunflowers. Once again the youngsters held on by their roots afraid they might tumble. Gloria reached for their stalks and pulled them close.  Their resiliency was tested in the face of a big storm.

Why I like this book:

The Three Sunflowers – Los Tres Girasoles is the bilingual version of the award-winning first edition, The Three Sunflowers. This version offers both English and Spanish on each page, as “a teaching tool and to bridge cultures by illuminating the universal themes, hopes and dreams we all share for all children.”

Janet Lucy has written an inspiring book for children with many gentle life lessons about staying centered when turbulence is swirling around you, being who you are supposed to be, living in the moment, being present with those we love and being thankful. These are all concepts children will grasp.  There is so much depth to this story and I had to be careful not to give it away.  It is also a story about life cycles, death, and transformation. Colleen McCarthy-Evans’s watercolor illustrations are exquisite and expressive. I like her use of white space. It is a lovely collaboration between author and illustrator.

The book is dedicated to La Virgen of Guadalupe, Divine Mother of compassion, comfort and protection. She is the inspiration for the wise character, Gloria, in the book. Her story and a glorious watercolor illustration of Her is on the back of the book. La Virgen de Guadalupe’s saint / holy day is celebrated on December 12. The author and illustrator are donating 20% of the profits to non-profits who provide immigration advocacy and legal support.

Resources:   Sunflowers are an international symbol of Peace. Lucy urges children to plant seeds of peace in their gardens. Visit The Three Sunflowers website to find wonderful resources, activities and a teaching guide to share with children. I was intrigued with how many virtues are included in this story, all great topics for discussion.

Janet Lucy  (left) is an award-winning writer and poet, and author of Moon Mother, Moon Daughter – Myths and Rituals that Celebrate a Girl’s Coming of Age. Janet is the Director of Women’s Creative Network in Santa Barbara, California, where she is a teacher, counselor/consultant and the mother of two radiant daughters.

Colleen McCarthy-Evans (right) is an award-winning watercolorist, writer and board game inventor, as well as a passionate fiber artist. She’s a co-founder of the Santa Barbara Charter School, which teaches conflict resolution along with academics and the arts. She lives in Santa Barbara, California with her husband and dog, and enjoys being in and out of the garden with her two grown sons.

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

Genevieve’s War by Patricia Reilly Giff

Genevieve’s War

Patricia Reilly Giff, Author

Holiday House Book, Historical Fiction, Mar. 30, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: WW II, France, Underground movements, Intergenerational Relationships, Love, Courage, Friendship

Synopsis: French American Genevieve, 13, and her older brother, André, are spending the summer of 1939 in Alsace, France, helping the grandmother they’ve never known with the family farm. Mémé turns out to be prickly, tough, disagreeable, and a taskmaster.

At the end of the summer, André returns to New York. Genevieve is set to leave on the Normandie, on what may well be the last passenger ship leaving France before the anticipated invasion of France by Germany. But on the day she leaves for the ship, she impulsively changes her mind and decides to stay in Alsace to help her aging grandmother run the farm. The farm is close to the German border and there are times when she questions her decision. But there is no turning back because World War II has begun and the Germans are infiltrating Alsace. Genevieve and Mémé soon become part of the Resistance when her friend Rémy commits an act of sabotage and they shelter him in an attic room, one story above a bedroom that a German soldier has claimed. In the years that follow, Genevieve learns a lot about survival, trust, the value of friendship, love, and belonging.

Why I like this book:

Patricia Reilly Giff”s beautiful work of historical fiction is impressively written and well-researched from beginning to end. Genevieve’s journey is a captivating and compelling journey about survival, taking risks, doing what is right, and learning who is trustworthy. Not only will teens enjoy this story, so will adults.

Giff’s novel offers readers a different perspective on WWII. It is convincingly narrated by a very Americanized girl of French descent, who is caught up in the middle the war and assisting the Resistance. Readers will fall in love with Genevieve, observe her growth, maturity and transformation over six years and her love and devotion to aging Mémé.  Genevieve is a strong, thoughtful, brave, and wise protagonist. Her story is one of triumph, both personally and for her community.

The setting if vivid and rich in detail. The plot is exciting, full of tension and fast-paced. Giff manages to capture what life is like in an occupied country. Genevieve and Mémé have hidden half of the vegetables they canned from their garden in a secret place behind an armoire. When a German officer billets at their house, there is constant fear. He takes the livestock, the pony and cart and food. The winter is brutally cold, their secret food stash runs out and they live on thin soup and hot water. Yet they are committed to helping the Resistance at great risk. Along the way Genevieve unravels mysteries about her deceased father and family. There are many surprises in this story.

Resources:  There is an Educator’s Guide available for Genevieve’s War with pre-reading suggestions, classroom discussion questions, curriculum connections and internet suggestions. You can download it from the publisher, Holiday House.

Patricia Reilly Giff is the author of many highly acclaimed books for children, including Lilly’s Crossing, a Newbery Honor Book and Boston Globe-HornBook Honor Book, and Pictures of Hollis Woods, a Newbery Honor Book. Her works for works for younger reader include the best-selling Kids of the Polk Street School series and the Hunter Moran books.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which was released November 7.

The Puppy’s Wish (A Wish Book) by Lori Evert

The Puppy’s Wish

Lori Evert, Author

Per Breiehagen, Photographer

Random House Books for Young Readers, Fiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 2-5

Themes: Dogs, Woodland Animals, Norway, Friendship

Opening: Birki is sad today. He wishes he had a special talent like his friends.

Synopsis: Birki is Anja’s husky puppy.  He wishes he is special like his woodland friends. The swans fly and swim, a moose forages for food, fox camouflage themselves from predators, the sheep provide wool for Anja’s clothing, the cattle and goat provide milk, and the reindeer pulls Anja in a sleigh. But Birki is a furry ball of fluff who loves his mama and Anja. Perhaps his love and friendship are the best gifts of all.

Compliments of Per Breiehagen

Why I like this book:

Lori Evert and her photographer husband, Per Breiehagen, return with another wintry 18th century Nordic adventure with their daughter, Anja, and her puppy, Birki. This tale is their second board book, which is perfect for small hands. The text is simple with words that are familiar, appealing and create a positive experience for young children and preschoolers who are learning to read. The Puppy’s Wish 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 arctic wildlife and the tender moments between Anja and Birki. This is another beautiful collaborative holiday offering by this husband-wife team, and their daughter Anja.

The Puppy’s Wish is the fifth Nordic treasure by the award-winning team of picture books The Christmas Wish, The Reindeer Wish, The Tiny Wish and The Brave Little Puppy (board book). This fun-loving board book is just in time for the holidays. The family hopes their books will inspire wonder, kindness, and a love for animals and nature. Visit their website.

Compliments of Per Breiehagen

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

LORI EVERT is the author of The New York Times bestseller The Christmas Wish, The Tiny Wish, The Reindeer Wish and The Brave Puppy. She and her family created The Wish books together. They split their time between Minnesota and Norway.

PER BREIEHAGEN is an award-winning, internationally acclaimed photographer from Norway. His credits include National Geographic, Audubon, and The New York Times Magazine. He created the images for The Wish Books with his daughter, Anja, and wife, Lori Evert.

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 website.

Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel

Caleb and Kit

Beth Vrabel, Author

Running Press, Fiction, Sep. 12, 2017

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Friendship, Cystic Fibrosis, Disability, Divorce

Opening: Kit said we were destined to meet, but I really was just going for a walk.

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Caleb is shorter, frailer, and more protected than most kids his age. That’s because he has cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis meaning his lungs fill with mucus and he has a shortened lifespan. Caleb tries not to let his disorder define him, but it can be hard with an overprotective mom and a perfect big brother.

Then Caleb meets Kit — a vibrant, independent, and free girl — and his world changes instantly. Kit reads Caleb’s palm and tells him they are destined to become friends. She calls birds down from the sky and turns every day into an adventure. Her magic is contagious, making Caleb question the rules and order in his life. But being Kit’s friend means embracing deception and danger, and soon Caleb will have to decide if his friendship with Kit is really what is best for him–or her.

Why I like this book:

Beth Vrabel has beautifully crafted a sensitive, compelling and heartwarming novel about Caleb, who happens to have cystic fibrosis. Vrabel strikes a nice balance between Caleb desperately wanting to live a normal life and his living with a serious illness. The narrative is written in first person and gives the reader deep insight into Caleb’s world. It is a beautiful story of self-discovery and vulnerability.

The woodland setting is rich and visual. The plot is multi-layered, courageous and complicated. The pacing is fast, engaging and keeps readers turning pages. The story is as captivating and creative as it is heartbreaking.

The characters are authentic, colorful and carefully developed. Caleb is a determined teen who defies his parent’s over-protectiveness, skips summer camp, and strikes up a relationship with Kit, a spirited teen who creates a fantasy world to avoid dealing with her own real-life problems. Their great adventure is both magical and appealing to Caleb at first, but he begins to see potential dangers. It is a powerful story of friendship, where Caleb is challenged to make decisions that may save more than one life.

It’s important for kids to see themselves in books and there are few novels published for youth with cystic fibrosis (CF) and their families and friends. The story gives readers a glimpse into Caleb’s daily routine that includes taking enzymes before meals to help him digest food, the large amounts of food he must consume, nebulizer medications that help him breathe more easily, and a compression vest to loosen mucous in his lungs. There are trips to the ER and hospital stays when he develops a lung infection. His life with CF is realistic, but doesn’t take over the story.

Resources: I recently learned that cystic fibrosis is called a “rare” disease because there aren’t enough individuals with CF to meet the magic number for major medical research funding. Sad. To learn more about cystic fibrosis visit their website. This book would pair nicely with The Baking Life of Amelie Day (MG) by Vanessa Curtis, and Changing Fate (YA) by Michelle Merrill.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which was released November 7.

La La La: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo

La La La: A Story of Hope

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Jaime Kim, Illustrator

Candlewick, Fiction, Oct. 3, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 4-8

Themes: Loneliness, Connecting, Hope

Synopsis: “La la la . . . la.” A little girl stands alone and sings, but hears no response. Gathering her courage and her curiosity, she skips farther out into the world, singing away to the trees and the pond and the reeds — but no song comes back to her. Day passes into night, and the girl dares to venture into the darkness toward the light of the moon, becoming more insistent in her singing, climbing as high as she can, but still there is silence in return. Dejected, she falls asleep on the ground, only to be awakened by an amazing sound. . . . She has been heard. At last.

Why I like this story:

Kate DiCamillio and Jaime Kim team up to create this strikingly beautiful wordless picture book that highlights a girl’s journey to connect with life — the trees, the pond, the woods, and the moon. The girl is persistent, curious and endearing. Her journey is about overcoming loneliness and never giving up hope no matter how rejected she may feel. She sings out a very simple call “La la la,” and listens for a response.

Jaime Kim’s gracefully captures the girl’s longing through her captivating illustrations. They breathe life into this expressive young adventurer and send her off on a captivating journey.

Resources: Make sure you read the author and illustrator notes at the end of the book to gain greater understanding about their lovely collaboration. Children will relate to the feelings of loneliness and will imagine the wordless story. This is a great discussion book.

Kate DiCamillo is the beloved author of many books for children, including Flora & Ulysses and The Tale of Despereaux, both of which received Newbery Medals. A former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, she lives in Minneapolis.

Jaime (Jimyung) Kim was born and raised in Korea before moving to the United States at the age of eighteen. She works in gouache and acrylics to create her beautiful, tender, and dreamlike landscapes and characters. Jaime Kim lives in North Carolina.

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 website.

Amanda in New Mexico by Darlene Foster

Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, Fiction, Oct. 1, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 9-12

Themes: Adventure, School trip, New Mexico, Haunted hotel, Ancient pueblo, Ghosts

Synopsis: Amanda Ross is on a school trip to Taos, New Mexico with several of her fellow creative students. She shares a room with Cleo, an anxious classmate who insists she see ghosts. Although Amanda is determined to prove there is no such things, she can’t seem to shake the feeling that something or someone is watching her.

Join Amanda, Cleo and their funny friend, Caleb, as they visit a rugged and beautiful landscape where a traditional hacienda, an ancient pueblo, and a haunted and spooky hotel all hold secrets to a wild and violent past.

Does Cleo really see ghosts? Can Amanda escape the eerie wind that follows her everywhere? Perhaps The Day of the Dead will reveal the mysteries of Taos in this latest and adventure of Amanda’s travels series.

Why I like this book:

Darlene Foster has written another lively adventure story for young readers who enjoy traveling, exploring and solving a good mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series won’t be disappointed with this fast-paced book which will keep them on edge with a spooky plot and unexplained events.

The story is character driven. Amanda is a fun, upbeat, curious, caring and memorable character that readers will want as a friend — especially since she has keen radar and is always ready to solve a good mystery.  And, Amanda can’t resist a good mystery — even if it involves ghosts, cold breezes brushing her shoulders and unexpected incidents. Her friend Cleo is more sensitive to the presences around and finds it safer to sketch the sites they visit instead of explore. Caleb is more pragmatic, the group photographer and a good balance for Amanda.

Readers will learn about history, geography, architecture, artifacts and shiver at the presence of ghosts that are rumored to be haunting many of the places they visit in Taos — the Mable Dodge Luhan house, the Governor Bent Museum, the Taos Pueblo, the Rio Grande Gorge and bridge, Ojo Caliente hot springs, the Palisade Sills, the St. James Hotel, and the Enchanted Circle Pottery. They will have an opportunity to attend the Day of the Dead celebration.

Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind is the sixth 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; Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone; and Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music.  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.

For the next few months Greg Pattridge will be hosting Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Thank you Greg for keeping MMGM active while author Shannon Messenger is on tour promoting her sixth book, Nightfall, in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, which was released November 7.