Because by Mo Willems

Because

Mo Willems, Author

Amber Rem, Illustrator

Hyperion Books for Children, Fiction, Mar. 5, 2019

Suitable for Ages: 5-8

Themes: Music, Musicians, Concerts, Serendipity, Chance, Magic

Opening: “Because a man named Ludwig wrote beautiful music — a man named Franz was inspired to create his own. Because many years later, people wanted to hear Franz’s beautiful music — they formed an orchestra.”

Synopsis:

Best-selling author and illustrator Mo Willems composes a powerful symphony of chance, discovery, persistence, and magic in this moving tale of a young girl’s journey to center stage. Illustrator Amber Ren brings Willems’ music to life, conducting a stunning picture-book debut.

Why I like this book:

There is so much beauty in this book. The tone of the text is wistful and wondering, inviting readers along a journey with a powerful life lesson — if you work hard at something you love, it pays off. The story is inspiring with a lot chance and serendipity woven throughout. Because someone’s uncle caught a cold — someone’s aunt had an extra ticket for someone special. This someone special was a girl who heard the beautiful music written by Franz and it changed her life. Willems shows how one chance can have a ripple effect leading to another, and another, and culminating in a chain of events that inspire others.

Amber Rem brings the story to life with her stunning illustrations. She creates a ribbon of musical notes that float through the pages and weaves its own magic. She pays a lot of attention to detail, especially with facial expressions. This is Rem’s debut picture book, and her artwork is gorgeous. And make sure you check out the endpapers to see Franz Schubert’s music, and a composition composed for this story, called “The Cold,” by Hilary Purrington.

Resources: This is a spectacular book to share with children about music. Take them to a children’s concert, or a performance where there is an orchestra. And, check out Mo Willems’s story behind the story by visiting his website and watching this creative video.

Because Mo Willems grew up writing and drawing comics — he became a writer and animator on Sesame Street (where he won six Emmy Awards). Because Mo also loved reading as a kid — he wanted to make books. Because of many other becauses, Mo has written and illustrated over fifty children’s books and has been awarded three Caldecott Honors, two Theodor Seuss Geisel Medals, and five Geisel Honors.

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

The Lost Girl

Anne Ursu, Author

Erin McGuire, Drawings

Walden Pond Press, Fiction, Feb. 12, 2019

Pages: 356

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Twin sisters, Differences, Bond, Magical realism, Mystery, Friendship

Opening: “The two sisters were alike in every way, except for all the ways that they were different.”

Synopsis: When you’re an identical twin, your story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark. Iris has always been the grounded, capable, and rational one; Lark is inventive, dreamy, and brilliant — and from their first moments in the world together, they’ve never left each other’s side. Everyone around them realized early on what the two sisters already knew: they had better outcomes when they were together.

When fifth grade arrives, it is decided that Iris and Lark Maguire should be split into different classrooms. Something breaks in them both. Iris is no longer so confident and acts out at school. Lark retreats into herself as she deals with challenges at school.

At the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them when things both great and small go missing without a trace. And a peculiar store, “Treasure Hunters,” opens across the street from the Maguire home. The sisters are intrigued with the odd messages that appear on sign outside the shop –“We Are Here,” “We Are Hunters,” “We Can Find Anything.” While Lark focuses on redecorating a doll house, Iris is secretly trying to uncover the mystery of what is hiding behind the walls of this unusual shop with its very peculiar owner and a crow perched outside. Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye in her neighborhood. She decides it’s up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe.

Why I like this book:

Anne Ursu has written an exhilarating, multi-layered and complex novel that touches on magic and realism. The Lost Girl is a coming-of-age story about the magic of sisterhood. The magic of friendships you least expect. The magic of losing yourself, but discovering you are stronger than you imagine. But there is another mysterious magic lurking nearby that is morphing into something that is far more sinister and dangerous.  Fans will find her plot twist suspenseful and gripping and cheer for the sisters “when the monsters really come.”

Ursu is a lyrical writer, so readers will experience many poetic turns of phrases. The storytelling is exceptional, because a mysterious narrator tells the twins’ story, adding another layer of meaning and wonder. I will admit it did drive me crazy trying to identify the narrator. But, never fear. All is revealed at the end. McGuire’s beautiful pen and ink drawings compliment the story and draw readers deeply into the mystery.

Ursu’s character development is outstanding as she aptly captures how teen girls express themselves. In the beginning Iris and Lark appear to be normal girls, who are different in the way they dress and see the world. But they perfectly balance each other with their strengths and weaknesses. Iris is practical and Lark sees beyond the story. The twin bond is powerful and the story revolves around their relationship. Readers really begin to understand the twins when they are separated at school and join different afterschool clubs. Lark retreats into herself and Iris acts out. And I would be remiss in not mentioning Iris’s gang of capable girlfriends who appear to help the twins defeat the darkness in an unusual turn of fate.

The Lost Girl is an excellent book for school libraries and for group discussions. It is an exciting mystery, a tribute to family, sisterhood and new friendships, and finding yourself when you feel lost.

Anne Ursu is the author of Breadcrumbs, named one of the best books of 2011 by School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Amazon.com., and the Chicago Public Library, and The Real Boy, which was long listed for the National Book Award and chosen as one of the New York Public Library’s “One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing.” You can visit her at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Over the Moon by Natalie Lloyd

Over the Moon

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Mar. 26, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Coal miners, Servants, Disability, Courage, Friendship, Competition, Magic, Legends

Opening: Dustflights are trained to sense explosions in the Down Below. Honeysuckle is my papa’s Dustflight, a tiny yellow bird they give every miner in Coal Top. 

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Mallie Ramble knows better than to dream. In Coal Top, you live the story you’re given: boys toil in the mines in the Down Below and girls work as servants. Mallie can’t bear the idea of that kind of life, but her family is counting on her wages to survive. Her father is injured in the mines.

It wasn’t always this way. Before the Dust came, the people of Coal Top could weave starlight into cloth. They’d wear these dreaming clothes to sleep and wake up with the courage to seek adventure . . . or the peace to heal a broken heart. But now nothing can penetrate Coal Top’s blanket of sorrow.

So when Mallie is chosen for a dangerous competition in which daring (and ideally, orphaned) children train flying horses, she jumps at the chance. Maybe she’ll change her story. Maybe she’ll even find the magic she needs to dream again. Maybe she will help her community to heal.

But the situation proves even more dangerous when Mallie uncovers a sinister mystery at the heart of Coal Top’s struggles — a mystery some powerful people, like Mortimer Good and his Guardians, will do anything to protect.

Why I like this book:

Over the Moon is an enchanting tale that will transport readers to Coal Top, a community that has lost its joy and is blanketed in sadness. And there is a girl, Mallie, who is pure of heart and brave enough to dream of flying among the stars. Natalie Lloyd creates a magical experience with a touch of realism. Her storytelling and literary style sets her apart as an original voice in children’s literature.

The characters are complex and unforgettable. Mallie is the loveable narrator who is wild and brave on the inside, “a fire-popper in a glass jar.” She has a short right arm and wears a fake orange “Popsnap,” that attaches at her elbow. She is her family’s breadwinner. She’s spirited and determined to keep her younger brother, Denver out of the mines. Adam is Mallie’s best friend and only sees her abilities. Together they make a good team. Honor and his friends are bullies. Iggy is a three-foot tall woman who cares for the flying horses. She is a tough trainer with a tender heart. Mortimer Good, is a beguiling and evil manipulator who wields a lot of control over Coal Top.

The plot is courageous, thrilling, and dangerous, with a sinister twist. Seeking “riches untold,” Mallie, Adam, Honor and other mountain kids show up for Mortimer Good’s competition. But they must prove themselves by capturing a magical flying horse (Starbirds) in the dangerous West Woods, which is full of monsters. There is adventure in training their horses, wonder in flying, danger in collecting riches from the mountains, and mystery in the origins of the dust.

Over the Moon is a labor of love for Natalie Lloyd, as she draws upon her own experience with a physical disability to create her main character, Mallie. In doing so, Lloyd shows her own source of courage as she pours her heart into brave, adventurous and kind-hearted Mallie.   

The heavy Dust that blankets Coal Top and snuffs out the light, becomes a powerful metaphor for the “dust” in our daily lives. Mallie is a reminder for readers that they need to push through their own challenges and darkness to find their inner light.

Over the Moon will touch your heart and soul. It is a tale of love, friendship, hope and courage. Lloyd’s fans will be “over the moon” with her new novel.

‘Mountain girl, lift up your eyes,

The stars are shining bright for thee.

Reach out and take the silver chord,

Braid beauty there for all to see.”

Natalie Lloyd is the New York Times bestselling author of A Snicker of Magic, which has been optioned for television by Sony TriStar. Lloyd’s other novels include The Key to Extraordinary, and The Problim Children series. Lloyd lives in Tennessee with her husband, Justin and her dogs Samson and Biscuit. Visit Lloyd at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the publisher.

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Bob

Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead, Authors

Nicholas Gannon, Illustrator

Feiwel and Friends Book, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family, Friends, Magic, Fantasy, Creature, Lost, Mystery

Synopsis:

It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia, which is under a severe drought. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.

It turns out she’s right.

Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. During that time he learns to count to 987,654,321, six times; build a Lego pirate ship, 63 times; and reads and memorizes the dictionary. But Bob can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.

Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, solve a community problem, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

Why I like this book:

Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead work their magic to create an enchanting and heartwarming story about a girl, Livy, and a little green creature, Bob. This will be a popular summer read inviting teens on an adventure to solve the mystery of Bob.

Livy is on a quest to discover exactly who and what Bob is, where he  comes from and how she returns him to his home and family. The story is told by Livy and Bob in alternating chapters. Stead wrote Livy and Mass wrote Bob. The storytelling is seamless with the tone of the text wistful and wandering, with a sense of urgency that there is much to discover.

The characters are lovable and relatable. Livy is a sweet 10-year-old girl struggling to feel comfortable in Gran’s home, a place she barely even remembers. She is troubled that she has forgotten Bob. How could she forget a little green zombie-creature? Bob is a kind-hearted and jovial and patient friend who tells  stories about the “old 5-year-old Livy” who wasn’t curious and took risks. He often refers to the “old” and the “new” Livy, when he wants to nudge her. There are many other memorable characters in this story, especially young Danny who has made his own discoveries about green creatures.

The plot is one big mystery with many subplots. Livy discovers that something peculiar happens to her whenever she leaves Bob for the afternoon to go with Gran into town — her memory of Bob fades. So she carries around Bob’s chipped chess piece in her pocket she can stroke and remember him. She also discovers that not everyone can see Bob.

I enjoyed the collaboration of these two celebrated middle grade authors, along with the entertaining illustrations of Nicholas Gannon, which contribute significantly to the story. It’s easy to lose yourself in Livy and Bob’s world because it is an inspiring story about the importance of family and friendship, with a sprinkle of magic. Even thought this story is rated for middle grade students, I believe it is a perfect read for fourth and fifth graders.

Resources: Visit Wendy Mass’ website, where readers will find a Book Club Guide, an Educator’s Guide and book trailers.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

Carnival Magic by Amy Ephron

Carnival Magic

Amy Ephron, Author

Philomel Books, Fiction, May 1, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Carnival, Fantasy, Magic, Adventure, Family relationships, Vacation

Synopsis:

This companion to Castle In the Mist features a mysterious carnival, an ominous psychic, and a wind that whisks Tess and Max away from their vacation in South Devon, England. Which fantastical world will they find this time?

Tess and Max are back in England for another summer with their Aunt Evie–this time by the seashore in South Devon. And they’re incredibly excited about the travelling carnival that’s come to town. There are rides, games, acrobats, The House of Mirrors–and even a psychic, with a beautiful wagon all her own.

In a visit to the psychic’s wagon, while Tess is being hypnotized, the wagon seems to move. Before Tess can shake herself out of the hypnosis, before Max can do anything, they seem to be travelling–along with the rest of the carnival–too quickly for the two of them to jump out. But where are they going and what awaits them? Will they be caught in a world different from their own? And do the Baranova twins, acrobats who miss their sister almost as much as Tess and Max miss their family, hold the keys to the mystery?

Why I like this book:

Amy Ephron returns with a companion novel to The Castle in the Mist and creates a magical tale filled with adventure, mystery, fantasy, family, and fun. Readers will feel like they’re in the middle of the action and find Carnival Magic the perfect summer read.

The fun carnival setting will appeal to readers. Who doesn’t like cotton candy, a baby tiger, a Ferris wheel, a Hall of Mirrors, psychics, and acrobats. The chapters are short and fast-paced, propelling readers forward into this magical ride.

The plot is one adventure after another, as the brother-sister duo literally work themselves through a magical maze of adventures that are not of their world. Tess saves a baby tiger, rescues a child dangling from a stuck Ferris wheel, stands in as an acrobat, and tries to reunite three siblings, while Max figures out the mystery of the Hall Mirrors and navigating worlds.

Tess is a smart, strong and independent female protagonist, following in the footsteps of her mother and Aunt Evie.  Max is the logical and sensible of the two. He has a way of looking to the future and finding the positive, which Tess envies. Tess tends to jump in and not worry about where she’s jumping until later. She’s good at making snap decisions that lead her into some very hair-raising moments. Tess and Max are a nice balance to one another, especially when they enter another worldly dimension. Both siblings are resourceful and supportive in their attempts to right some wrongs and get back to South Devon — or did they really ever really leave it? A question readers will ponder.

The novel is entertaining, imaginative and filled with unexpected twists from beginning to end.

Amy Ephron is the author of The Castle in the Mist, which was her first middle grade novel. It was nominated for a SCIBA Award and selected as a February 2017 Barnes and Noble Best Book for Young Readers and Amazon Best Book of the Month. She has also written several adult books. A Cup of Tea was an international bestseller. Visit Ephron at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd

The Problim Children

Natalie Lloyd, Author

Katherine Tegen Books, Magical Realism, Jan. 30, 2018

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Siblings, Adventure, Mystery, Courage, Friendship, Treasure

Book Jacket Synopsis: When the Problims’ beloved bungalow in the Swampy Wood goes kaboom, the seven siblings have no choice but to move into their grandpa’s abandoned old Victorian house in the town of Lost Cove. No problem! For the Problim children, every problem is a gift.

Wendell and Thea — twins born two minutes apart on a Wednesday and a Thursday — see the move as a change to make new friends in time for their birthday cake smash. But the neighbors find the Problims’ return problematic — what with Sal’s foggy garden full on Wrangling Ivy, toddler Toot’s 365 stanktastic fart varieties, and Mona’s human catapult.

Truth be told, rumors are flying about the Problims! Rumors of a bitter feud, a treasure, and a certain kind of magic that lingers in the halls of #7 Main Street. And an evil neighbor, Desdemona O’ Pinion, will do anything to get her hands on those secrets — including sending the Problim children to seven different homes on sever different continents!

Why I like this book:

Natalie Lloyd’s newest novel, The Problim Children, is a thrilling read packed with a lot of eye-popping kid-appeal. Readers will be happy to know it is the first of three books in the series.  It is a boisterous and rollicking ride through a wild and wacky world that is magical from the start. The children bring with them circus spiders, a purple robotic squirrel and a pet pig, Ichabod.

Lloyd is a master with clever wordplay, rhymes and clues. Her writing is lyrical and her voice is original. Scattered throughout the story are pen and ink drawings of the action, which adds to the quirky feel of the story. The book reminds me of my hours spent with Pippi Longstocking. But today’s readers will liken it to The Penderwicks and Lemony Snicket.

Meet the seven weird and lively Problim Children, each one born on a different day of the week and named after that day: Mona, Tootykins, Wendell, Thea, Frida, Sal and Sundae. These seven are open-minded and have heart. Their parents are off on an archaeological dig somewhere in the world, while 16-year-old Sundae is in charge of her siblings. For me, the strength in the story is in Lloyd’s richly developed characters. Baby Toot communicates with his siblings through his farts, which are footnoted at the bottom (i.e. #227: The Hushfart: Softer sounding than a referee’s whistle, but still shrill. Smells like dirty clothes. Means: be quiet!)

The plot is enchanting filled with wonder, mystery, danger and a lot of humor. And there are clues to a hidden  treasure. Moving into their grandpa’s house is an adventure, a new beginning and a chance to make new friends. Except the residents are suspicious and don’t welcome the children to their new town. There is history with the Problim family and people are afraid history may repeat itself. But the children are charming and find a way to work their way into some of the their hearts. Prediction: This will be a winner with readers! And they will be teased with the inclusion of the first chapter of the second book at the end.

Natalie Lloyd was born on a Monday (but she’s a Thursday girl at heart). She loves writing stories full of magic, friendship and the occasional toot, including A Snicker of Magic, which was a New York Times best seller, and Key to the Extraordinary. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband, Justin, and their dogs, Biscuit and Samson. Visit Natalie Lloyd at her website.

Greg Pattridge is the host for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

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!

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar

hour-of-the-bees-41ovl5tbiol__sx344_bo1204203200_Hour of the Bees

Lindsay Eagar, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 8, 2016

Pages: 360

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Family relationships, Heritage, Magic, Grandfather, Dementia, Forgiveness, Understanding, Loss

Book Jacket Synopsis: While her friends are spending their summers having pool parties and sleepovers, twelve-year-old Carolina –Carol — is spending hers in the middle of the New Mexico desert, helping her parents move the grandfather she’s never met off his dying sheep ranch and into a home for people with dementia.

At first Carol keeps her distance from prickly Grandpa Serge, whose eyes are impossibly old and who chastises “Caro-leeen-a” for spitting on her roots. But as the summer drags on and the heat bears down, she finds herself drawn to Serge, enchanted by his stories about an oasis in the desert with a green-glass lake and a tree that gave the villagers the gift of immortality — and the bees that kept the tree alive.

When Serge weaves details of his own life into his stories and tells her to keep an eye out for the bees he is certain will return to the ranch and end the century-long drought, she chalks it up to dementia. But as the thin line between magic and reality starts to blur, Carol must decide for herself what is possible — and what it means to be true to her roots.

Why I like this book:

Lindsay Eagar’s heartfelt and sensitive intergenerational story is about finding and honoring your roots.  The language is strong and lyrical and captures the growing bond between Carolina (Carol) and Grandfather Serge. And there is an intermingling of Spanish and English that adds authenticity to the setting.

It also is a coming of age story for a 12-year-old Carol, who is the only family member interested in really getting to know her grandfather and is spellbound with his storytelling about a special tree that keeps the Spanish community safe, a girl who dares to leave and explore the world, and living forever.

The characters are realistic and believable. Carol is a curious, sweet, patient and reliable tween who is the only family member who respects and even admires her grandfather. She attempts to connect with him, even when he lapses into the past and mistakes Carol for her Grandmother Rosa. Grandfather Serge is a crusty old man who is battling dementia and won’t leave his run-down sheep ranch. He can spin a great story and Carol wants to hear them all.

The plot is original with moments of action and tension in the ravaged desert environment that will keep readers engaged. There are personality struggles that teens will relate to with Carol and her sister, Alta, and Carol’s father and Grandfather Serge. This magical story inside the story is beautifully written and one you won’t forget.  I LOVED The Hour of the Bees.  The ending is very satisfying and will capture  readers’ imaginations.

This is a helpful story for teens who have grandparents suffering with dementia. It gives them insight into ways of communicating and connecting with loved ones. It is also an interesting story to read, discuss and write about because of the many  layered themes.

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

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 Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

Seventh Wish51YFk8Hy66L__SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The Seventh Wish

Kate Messner, Author

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, Fiction, Jun. 7, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Magic, Wishes, Ice Fishing, Irish Dancing, Siblings, Family Relationships

Opening: “I’ve only seen the ice flowers once.”

Book Jacket Synopsis: When Charlie Brennan goes ice fishing on her town’s frozen lake, she’s hoping the fish she reels in will help pay for her dream: a fancy Irish dancing dress for her upcoming competition. But when Charlie’s first catch of the day happens to be a talking fish offering her a wish in exchange for its freedom, her world turns upside down, as her wishes go terribly — and hilariously — wrong.

Just as Charlie is finally getting the hang of communicating with a magical wishing fish, a family crisis with her older sister brings reality into sharp focus. Charlie quickly learns that the real world doesn’t always keep fairy-tale promises and life’s toughest challenges can’t be fixed by a simple wish.

Why I like this book:

Kate Messner’s charming coming of age book, The Seventh Wish, is appropriate for all middle grade students. Her imagery is beautiful as she cleverly weaves magic into the story with Charlie’s catching a talking fish that grants her wishes. The wishes may at first seem like an easy way to help herself and her friends, but she soon discovers that life’s challenges aren’t always easy. Especially when Charlie discovers her older sister has a drug addiction and overdoses.

Messner bravely addresses some meaty issues, like heroin addiction, in an age-appropriate manner. I know this has caused some controversy. But I believe it is an issue that siblings may face with older brothers and sisters. And as in any family health crisis, Charlie feels invisible when her parents’ focus shifts to concern about Abby’s addiction and Abby’s treatment. Because of Abby, Charlie dreams are put on hold as she has to adjust her life, make excuses to her science fair team and dance friends, misses an important Irish dance competition and can’t buy her new glittery costume. I know some families who would appreciate this book.

The story is character-driven, with Charlie narrating. Her voice is an authentic and typical of a middle grade girl and a younger sister. She loves school and is interested in her friends and boys. Her passion is Irish dancing and she’s working hard to move up to higher levels of difficulty. She overcomes her fear of the ice and spends a lot of time ice fishing on the pond with her neighbor, Drew, and his grandmother,  Mrs. McNeill, who bring some balance to Charlie’s life. She catches a lot of perch and realizes that she can earn enough money to buy her first real dance glittery Irish dress.

The strong plot is clever and engaging. In the first half of the story we really get to know Charlie and her relationship with her family and friends. After the fateful call about sister’s overdose, the second half  focuses on Abby and the family in crisis mode. The pace is fast-moving with many unexpected twists that will have reader fully engaged and surprised. This is an excellent book that will help teens to discuss drugs and addiction with family and teachers.

Kate Messner is a former middle-school English teacher and the author of All the Answers, Wake Up Missing, Eye of the Storm, Sugar and Ice, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. and its e-book companion, The Exact Location of Home, Capture the Flag, Hide and Seek, and All the Answers. She has also written chapter and picture books. Follow Kate Messner at her website.

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