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.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Wishtree

Katherine Applegate, Author

Feiwel & Friends, Fiction, Sep. 26, 2017

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Trees, Wishes, Crows, Animals, Friendship, Tolerance

Opening: It’s hard to talk to trees. We’re not big on chitchat. That’s not to say we can’t do amazing things, things you’ll probably never do. Cradle downy owlets. Steady flimsy tree forts. Photosynthesize. But talk to people? Not so much.

Synopsis:

Red is an oak tree who is 216 rings old. Red is the neighborhood “wishtree.” Every May 1 people come from all over town to write their most private wishes on pieces of paper, cloth, and socks and tie them to Red’s branches. He holds their hopes and dreams in his limbs. Then, they whisper their wish. Red listens but never responds. It’s against the rules for a tree to speak to a human.

Along with her crow friend Bongo and other animals who seek refuge in Red’s hollows, this “wishtree” watches over the neighborhood. Red has seen a lot of change over 200 years.

When a Muslim family moves in, Red observes how Samar and her family are treated by neighbors. Not everyone is welcoming.  Nasty threats are carved on his trunk, eggs are thrown, and ugly words shouted from passing cars.  More than ever, Red wants to fulfill Samar’s wish to find a friend. When Red learns the property owner may have some plans for him, he breaks some rules and ask his friends for help.

Why I like this book:

Katherine Applegate’s heartwarming middle grade novel is magical and conveys a message that is relevant today. It also reminds us of our common humanity.

The story is narrated by Red, a red oak tree, with compassion, concern, wisdom, and a sense of humor; no easy task for an author. Red’s branches and hollows are home to a birds and a furry cast of comical characters (owls, raccoons, opossums, skunks, cats and a crow) who live to together in harmony — most of the time. Red and his residents communicate openly with each other, but not with humans. Once a year Red is a wishtree for the town. Red’s world is vibrant and harbors a secret that needs to be shared.

Wishtree is a quiet and thoughtful read aloud with the entire family or in the classroom. It has a strong plot that with themes the encourage readers think about diversity, inclusion, acceptance, kindness and the true nature of friendship. It is a delightful mix that will keep readers turning pages. The story has Common Core connections.

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.

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman

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Joyce Sidman, Author and Poet

Beth Krommes, Illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 4-7

Themes: City and town life, A child’s wish, Snow, Rhyme

Book Jacket Synopsis: There are planes to fly and buses to catch, but a small child wishes for a different sort of day. As clouds gather and heavy flakes fall, her invocation rises above the sleeping city. A too-busy world falls silent, and a family revels in the freedom and peace that snow brings.

Why I like this book:

Joyce Sidman’s breathtaking book is pure poetry for children and the young at heart. The text is spare and there are many wordless pages. It is a quiet story to curl up with, read slowly and study the detail on each page. There are busy scenes of people walking in parks, striding past shops, pushing strollers and riding buses. There are children arriving home from school, families eating together, and parents leaving for work. And there is a child who wishes for snow. Beth Krommes’ beautiful scratch-board artwork is a feast for the eyes.  The words and artwork perfectly support the theme.

Resources:  Make sure you read the author’s thought-provoking comment “On Wishes and Invocations” at the end of the book. Ask children what they wish for. Do their words have power?

Joyce Sidman won a Newbery Honor for her Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. She is today’s foremost nature poet for children. Two of her other books are Caldecott Honor books. She won the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children for her award-winning body of work.

Beth Krommes is the Caldecott-winning artist of The House in the Night and other beautiful picture books, including Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, and Blue on Blue.

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 Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

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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.

The Tiny Wish

The Tiny Wish9780385379229_p0_v3_s260x420The Tiny Wish

Lori Evert, Author

Per Breiehagen, Illustrator

Random House, Fiction, Jan. 6 2015

Suitable for Ages: 3-7

Themes: Animals, Wishes, Nature, Spring, Travels

Opening: Long, long ago, in the days when you could only see as much of the world as a horse could take you, lived a curious little girl named Anja.

Synopsis: Anja, the kind and brave heroine of the bestselling book, The Christmas Wish, sheds her winter skis and returns in a magical springtime Scandinavian adventure. Anja visits her two cousins at their mountain farm. The three-some ride off on a big horse to check on the family’s goats. Once the goats have been accounted for, the children play a game of hide-and-seek. When Anja wishes to be tiny to win the game, her wish comes true! Just a few inches tall, she must find her way home with the help of some new animal friends.

Why I like this book:

Lori Evert and her husband, Per Breiehagen, have teamed up to create another breathtaking and enchanting story featuring their daughter. Anja looks like she’s stepped out of a Scandinavian fairy tale as she celebrates and explores the arrival of Spring in the mountains and valleys.

Evert’s text is simple and magical. She inspires reader’s to use their imaginations. During a game of hide-and-seek with her cousins, Anja’s favorite goat follows her and gives away her hiding places. She wants to be small, so her cousins can’t find her. When her wish comes true she has the most extraordinary adventures. She climbs onto the back of a finch and flies over fields of cotton grass, she eats wild strawberries bigger than she is, and has conversations with the most adorable gigantic animals who guide her journey home.

Breiehagen’s photographs are lush and exquisite. The gorgeous scenery of green meadows, snow-capped mountains draining into overflowing streams, goats grazing in fields of cotton grass, and Anja sitting in grass as tall as trees, really make this story sing of springtime. This is a perfect book to read to children as the sun warms their faces and nature blooms around them.

Resources: Visit Random House Kids for more information about the book and for activities that can be downloaded. Go on a nature walk at a nearby park and search for plants and trees that are blooming in the woods.  Observe how busy the animals are. Look for birds tending to nests and listen for the sounds of new life.

Check out my review of The Christmas Wish.

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.