The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay


8F336876-C457-4438-91E5-BBE856C38066From Netgalley & the Publisher:

From award-winning author Hilary McKay comes a beautiful, enchanting story about a girl adjusting to her new family and their new house—which just might be magical.

When Abi’s father marries Max and Louis’s mom, their families start over together. Abi suddenly finds herself the middle child, expected to share far too much—especially with grubby little Louis. Then they move into an eerie, ivy-covered house, big enough for all of them.

But for the children, strange things start to happen in that house. Abi reads alone, and finds herself tumbling so deep into books, they almost seem real. Louis summons comfort from outdoors, and a startling guest arrives—is it a cat or something else? Max loses his best friend…and falls in love. Meanwhile, Louis’s secret visitor is becoming much too real. Now Abi, Max, and Louis must uncover the secrets of their new home—for there can be danger in even the most beautiful magic.

Moving into a new home can be very traumatic for children. Moving into a new home with a new family can be even harder.

The Time of Green Magic is more about the intricacies of family dynamics than it is about magic. The three children in this blended family all struggle with some serious emotions. Abi feels unwelcome in her new blended family, resenting sharing her Dad with her two new brothers and missing her grandmother terribly. Max and Louis are also struggling to accept Abi and her Dad as parts of their lives with mom Polly. Louis especially has issues with separation and anger.

Moving into a new house, completely covered with ivy, sets in motion a series of events that results in the family being renewed and bonded, but not without some excitement along the way. Truly, this is about the children coming to grips with love, loss, and fear.

McKay does a good job of telling a captivating, exciting story that seamlessly blends fantasy and reality. As a librarian and reader, I especially appreciate that books are the vehicle used to introduce magic to the children’s lives.

Kids exploring fantasy will enjoy this, and I expect it will lead them to other, more complex stories.

Recommended.

Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Published By: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing; Margaret K. McElderry Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Hood by Jenny Elder Moke


cover182367-mediumYou have the blood of kings and rebels within you, love. Let it rise to meet the call. Isabelle of Kirklees has only ever known a quiet life inside the sheltered walls of the convent, where she lives with her mother, Marien. But after she is arrested by royal soldiers for defending innocent villagers, Isabelle becomes the target of the Wolf, King John’s ruthless right hand. Desperate to keep her daughter safe, Marien helps Isabelle escape and sends her on a mission to find the one person who can help: Isabelle’s father, Robin Hood. As Isabelle races to stay out of the Wolf’s clutches and find the father she’s never known, she is thrust into a world of thieves and mercenaries, handsome young outlaws, new enemies with old grudges, and a king who wants her entire family dead. As she joins forces with Robin and his Merry Men in a final battle against the Wolf, will Isabelle find the strength to defy the crown and save the lives of everyone she holds dear?

In Hood, author Jenny Elder Moke reimagines the world of Robin Hood in lush, historical detail and imbues her story with more breathless action than has ever come out of Sherwood Forest before. This novel is a must-read for historical-fiction fans, adventure lovers, and reluctant readers alike!

There has been a spate of creative re-imaginings of old stories, so I was curious to see how Moke reinvented Robin Hood. What I found was not a re-telling or even a re-invention but a freshly drawn sequel answering the question “so what happened to Robin and Marien?”

There is plenty of action here, featuring both men and women, and some gore which pushes this firmly up into end-of-middle-school category. Moke’s writing is crisp and lively, with memorable characters. Isabelle, daughter of Robin & Marien, sometimes is a little silly, but Moke successfully portrays her as the sheltered-girl-finding-her-spine. The climax was unexpected and sad, but Moke brings everything full-circle and sets the stage for what could be a really cool series. Well done.

Ages 12 and up

Publication Date: June 9, 2020
Published By: Disney-Hyperion
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Quintessence by Jess Redman


9780374309763_aa1faIn this heartfelt middle-grade novel perfect for fans of Barbara O’Connor, a girl goes on a quest to return a fallen star to the sky, and along the way discovers friendship, magic, and the strength of her own soul.

Three months ago, twelve-year-old Alma moved to the town of Four Points. Her panic attacks started a week later, and they haven’t stopped—even though she’s told her parents that they have. Every day she feels less and less like herself. But one day she finds a telescope in the town’s junk shop, and through its lens, she watches a star—a star that looks like a child—fall from the sky and into her backyard. Alma knows what it’s like to long for home, and decides she’ll return that star home to the sky. With the help of unlikely new friends, she sets out on a quest that will take a little bit of science, a little bit of magic, and her whole self. Quintessence is a stunning story from Jess Redman about friendship, self-discovery, interconnectedness, and the inexplicable elements that make you you.

Quintessence was the first book I read in 2020 and is one of my top 10 books so far this year. The unique plot revolving around a fallen star unfolds into this lovely story about a young girl struggling with identity, loneliness, and self-worth in a new town.

There are so many good things about this book but perhaps the most touching is the message that we all have a light inside – we just need to figure out how to ignite it. Alma remembers that light and is frustrated with trying to find it again. Anyone struggling with depression will recognize that feeling and identify with Alma as she searches for her inner fire.

This is Jess Redman’s second book. Her first, The Miraculous, also featured a child protagonist struggling with a difficult time. I wrote about that book here. The Miraculous was a lovely, heartbreaking book; Quintessence is absolute joy.

So good for kids to know that they are enough.

Well done!

Publication Date: July 28, 2020
Published By: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Thanks to Edelweiss for the review copy

Of Salt and Shore by Annet Schaap


cover180004-mediumFor fans of The Hazel Wood, this middle grade novel takes the dark stuff of fairytales and crafts it into a powerful story of friendship and light.

Every evening Lampie, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter, must light a lantern to warn ships away from the rocks, but one stormy night disaster strikes. The lantern is not lit, a ship is wrecked, and someone must pay.

To work off her debt, Lampie is banished to the Admiral’s lonely house, where a monster is rumored to live. The terrors inside the house aren’t quite what she thought they would be–they are even stranger. After Lampie saves the life of the neglected, deformed son of the admiral, a boy she calls Fish, they form a close bond. Soon they are pulled into a fairytale adventure swimming with mermaids, pirates, and misfits. Lampie will discover the courage to fight for friendship, knowledge, and the freedom to be different.

Ready for a weird and harsh twist on The Little Mermaid fairytale?

This twisted tale imagines the life of the offspring of the union between a mermaid and a human, told through the voice of a young, uneducated but fierce girl named Emilia.

Emilia, also known as Lampie, endures a hard life as a lighthouse keeper’s daughter, made more difficult by the loss of her beloved mother and her father’s subsequent drinking and depression. A horrible lapse in memory causes a terrible disaster, which separates Lampie and her father. Sent to live in the “Black House,” Lampie quickly comes to understand that there is something very wrong there. Lampie uncovers the secret of the household, the deformed son of the master who is kept locked in a tower room. Lampie finds that he is a rude little boy, but also much more. The two form an unusual friendship, which grows out of Lampie’s natural inclination to treat Edward, or Fish as she calls him, as any other person. Ultimately, they both find their way “home.”

This is not a sweet fairy story and includes some violence. It examines the darker side of human nature, focusing on the suspicion, fear and intolerance associated with people who are different, but also demonstrates the utter joy and beauty that can be found when human beings connect despite their differences. Beautifully written, with characters that jump off the pages and swim around in your mind long after the book is closed, Of Salt and Shore should be one of the most anticipated books of the year.

Publication Date: September 15, 2020
Published By: Charlesbridge Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Thief Knot by Kate Milford


cover168401-mediumGhosts, a kidnapping, a crew of young detectives, and family secrets mix in this new standalone mystery set in the world of the bestselling Greenglass House, from a National Book Award nominee and Edgar Award-winning author.

Marzana and her best friend are bored. Even though they live in a notorious city where normal rules do not apply, nothing interesting ever happens to them. Nothing, that is, until Marzana’s parents are recruited to help solve an odd crime/kidnapping, and she realizes that this could be the excitement she’s been waiting for. She assembles a group of kid detectives with special skills—including the ghost of a ship captain’s daughter—and together, they explore hidden passageways, navigate architecture that changes overnight, and try to unravel the puzzle of who the kidnappers are—and where they’re hiding. But will they beat the deadline for a ransom that’s impossible to pay?

Legendary smugglers, suspicious teachers, and some scary bad guys are just a few of the adults the crew must circumvent while discovering hidden truths about their families and themselves in this smart, richly imagined tale.

Kate Milford’s Nagspeake books just keep getting better. The world-building that began in Greenglass House continues with this latest entry featuring characters introduced in The Ghosts of Greenglass House last year. Marzana and her parents are back, as are Lucky and Emmett, in this case living a peaceful (if boring) life in The Liberty of Gammerbund. Marzana chafes at the ordinariness of her life, not understanding why her parents keep her from fully understanding their old lives as smugglers.

As the story picks up steam, Marzana finds herself making friends and taking charge, two things that have been difficult for her. Milford often includes a character who struggles with some sort of issue. For Milo in the Greenglass books, it’s anger. For Marzana, it’s shyness and anxiety that takes the form of a bear gnawing away at her insides. Milford wraps bibliotherapy into a cracking good story, which will keep kids reading at the same time it makes them feel better about themselves. Well done.

Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Author Spotlight – Robin L. Flanigan


RobinRobin L. Flanigan grew up among the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, and launched a writing career in the early ‘90s while living in a Baltimore graveyard.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in language and literature from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where she studied for a semester at Oxford University’s Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Robin worked in newsrooms for eleven years, winning several national awards. Her essays have been published in various literary magazines and anthologies.

Her children’s book, M is for Mindful, uses inspiring verses to help children cultivate self-awareness, compassion, respect for diversity, and other practices—for an intentional, balanced, considerate life.

How did you get started as a writer?

I wrote my first story when I was seven, and have been writing ever since. As a newspaper reporter, I came up the old-school way—-writing for free to get bylines, then using those bylines to sell stories to various publications. That led to jobs at newspapers in Maryland, North Carolina and eventually, Rochester, New York. I have been freelancing now for 14 years, working mostly for newspapers and magazines around the country. When it comes to writing, I feel like I’m never off the clock. If I’m not on deadline, for example, I’m usually drafting a personal essay or jotting notes about future book ideas.

Who has influenced your writing career?

One of my friends from the Little Italy section of Baltimore is Rosalia Maria Scalia, and she raised three children on a freelancer’s salary. A former Baltimore Sun reporter named Rafael Alvarez, who taught me about persistence and the importance of place, introduced me to her. Good mentors are critical. For me, these two offered detailed instructions on how to turn my passion into a career. I’ve always wanted to make them proud. Other writers I admire and use as inspiration include Julia Cameron, Jo Ann Beard, and Sonja Livingston.

What prompted you to write M is for Mindful?

The idea for the book started because I wanted to be a better mother. When my daughter was three, I’d wake up early, do a yoga session by streetlight in the living room, and read a book passage or online article about mindfulness. I wanted her to grow up understanding what mindfulness is, instead of having to learn about it as an adult like I was doing, so I started creating poems to help her. This went on for years. At bath time, in the grocery store, we would play with countless versions of verses. I would discard a concept because it didn’t feel right to me; she would reject a rhyme because it didn’t sound right to her. The manuscript spent years in my desk drawer. My daughter just had a birthday—she’s 14. Now that M is for Mindful exists in the world, as the parent of a teenager I’m finding myself relying on many of the verses in the book—especially “A is for ATTITUDE.”

accept what comes
your way with grace
lessons come
from every place

There’s irony here somewhere…

What is your favorite story from your writing past?

Unfortunately, it is a tragic story, one in which a friendship ends in tragedy. I wrote a series of stories for the Democrat and Chronicle newspaper more than a decade ago about a boy who accidentally killed one of his best friends with a bow and arrow. It’s odd to use the word “favorite” here, but the reason I chose this story is because this boy, his family, and his friends let me spend months with them learning about what it’s like to go through something so horrific. Their honesty and bravery live with me and, from my perspective, spotlight how difficult it can be to be human—and how we all can help each other heal.

Praise for M is for Mindful:

“This is the kind of book I want on my shelf, and when I have grandchildren I will read it to them daily—for them and me too.” —Andie MacDowell, Golden Globe-winning actress

M is for Mindful will teach children values and attitudes that will give them a positive direction to live their lives.” —Temple Grandin, PhD, award-winning author of Thinking in Pictures, autism spokesperson, National Women’s Hall of Fame inductee

Robin Flanigan’s book, M is for Mindful, is available from online retailers.

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden


cover165699-mediumFrom the Publisher: Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire. Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the Smiling Man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE.

Horror for kids is not an easy genre, but with this second book featuring Ollie, Coco, and Brian, Katherine Arden cements her place as the Queen of Shivers for middle grade readers. Picking up a couple months after the events of Small Spaces, we find our plucky trio trapped in a remote ski lodge by a doozy of a snowstorm. As the action progresses, the three find their courage and friendship tested again by the Smiling Man and a gaggle of ghosts.

Arden is adept at creating an atmosphere that will leave you shivering and glancing over your shoulder at every little sound. She makes this old ski lodge seem like the creepiest, scariest place ever, and that’s before she opens another dimension. The horror is countered by the solid friendship enjoyed by Coco, Ollie and Brian, and by the growing affection between Coco’s mother and Ollie’s father.

Arden also focuses the action on the kids using their brains to think their way out of the scary situations. Coco and Ollie especially rely on deductive reasoning to ultimately defeat the Smiling Man.

With this second entry in the series, Katherine Arden takes her place on my scary story bookshelves with Mary Downing Hahn, R.L. Stine, and Patricia Clapp. Recommended.

Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Published By: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

A Tale of Witchwood Park by S.W. Develin


cover171821-mediumEmily Spellmaker is missing. She didn’t return to Witchwood Park Elementary and Kendra, the shy little girl she befriended, is heartbroken. Kendra waits alone after school each day until the Tuesday a troll walks out of the woods. He chooses Kendra, Jimmy (the school bully), and Daniel (an outcast) to come on a magical journey where they must overcome an evil queen and her Army of the Faceless to free an enslaved land. In the process they learn who they really are and what friendship means, while getting closer to solving the mystery of Emily Spellmaker.

This lovely tale about the power of storytelling will appeal to early-mid level readers who cut their teeth on animated fantasies like Frozen, Rapunzel, and Brave. We’re drawn in to the story as a troll appears in a schoolyard, looking for a Queen, a Knight, and Something Else. He connects with three misfits – Daniel, the boy who never gets picked for soccer; Kendra, a quiet little girl who can’t seem to function when around people; and Jimmy, the bully who can never do anything right.

The story moves quickly, as the troll leads the children into the Witchwood, where an amazing adventure awaits. Each child discovers something extraordinary about themselves as they work together to save the magical kingdom they’ve found.

I thoroughly enjoyed the premise that the Witchwood and the events of the story itself were created through Kendra’s storytelling, which she uses to cope with her every-day life. Relatively short, with a quick, action-packed pace, this will appeal to boys and girls alike.

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo


cover157556-mediumBeverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. By now, she figures, it’s not running away. It’s leaving. Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her mom, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her — and gradually, she learns to see herself through their eyes. In a touching, funny, and fearless conclusion to her sequence of novels about the beloved Three Rancheros, DiCamillo tells the story of a character who will break your heart and put it back together again.

Beverly put her foot down on the gas. They went faster still.
This was what Beverly wanted — what she always wanted. To get away. To get away as fast as she could. To stay away

DiCamillo has delivered another poignant story of a young woman searching for her place in the world. Here she focuses on Beverly Tapinski, one of the three friends from Raymie Nightingale. We pick up with Beverly shortly after she has buried her beloved dog and right after Louisiana has left. Beverly decides to leave, too. She has nothing keeping her at home now that Buddy is dead, so she bums a ride with a distant cousin to a new town where she gets a job and moves in with an old lady who needs some help. Even though she doesn’t want to like, or even love people, she finds they grow on her.

The whole trio of books about this group of friends should be read together and by every 12-13 year old. DiCamillo handles friendship, heartbreak, disappointment, and all the emotions that come tumbling down at that age and does it in a gentle, reassuring way. Well done.

Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Published By: Candlewick Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Little Grey Girl by Celine Kiernan


cover159644-mediumFrom the Publisher: In the second book of the Wild Magic trilogy, courageous young Mup and her family are trying to heal and restore the kingdom when they uncover an ancient and powerful anger. The old queen and her raggedy witches have fled Witches Borough, and Mup’s family has moved into the cold, newly empty castle. But the queen’s legacy lingers in the fear and mistrust of her former subjects and in the memories that live in the castle’s very walls. When an enchanted snow blankets the castle, Mup’s family is cut off from the rest of the kingdom, and the painful memories of the old queen’s victims begin to take form, thanks to a ghost whose power may be too much for even Mup and Mam to handle. Celine Kiernan weaves a timely and essential truth into the second book of her trilogy: that dismantling oppression means honoring the pains of the past, and perhaps the most potent magic of all is encouraging joy and hope wherever possible.

Kiernan introduced Mup, Mam, Dad, Crow, and Tipper in Begone the Raggedy Witches (Book One of the Wild Magic Trilogy) last year, and now follows that wonderful debut with a continuation of the same story. After having defeated the Raggedy Witches and dethroned the wicked Queen, Mam moves her family into the other world and takes up residence in the old Queen’s castle. Once there, Mam struggles with the need for a Queen expressed by the people, since she wants to do everything different from how her mother, the old Queen, ruled. There’s no question that Mam has the power, but does she have the will to rule?

At the same time, Mup is struggling to understand her place in this new world, and come to terms with her own power, which sparks from her fingertips. Mup can sense that something isn’t right, and Kiernan does an excellent job of communicating not only Mup’s feeling of being out of place but her powerful sense of something bigger being wrong.

The juxtaposition between Mup’s happy family and the residual sadness, anger, and fear left in the old Queen’s castle is made more powerful by the cursed moon and snow the old Queen sends to disrupt the land. Throw in an unhappy ghost, a confused Raggedy Witch, and a friend who feels betrayed and you have a story that will keep you reading well into the night.

Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Published By: Candlewick Press
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy