The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
By Janet Fox
Viking Books, 2016.
Genre: Fantasy and Historical Fiction Pages: 388 Grades: 5/6 and Up
My two favorite genres are historical fiction and fantasy. That’s why I loved this book it takes place during World War II in London. Bombs are beginning to fall and the people of London are sending their kids away to safer places. Katherine, called Kat, her brother Robbie and younger sister Amelie are sent away to an Academy that was set up in Rookskill Castle in Scotland. Their father said it would be a great place for them all during the war.
As they are packing her Aunt gives Cat a chatelaine—which are charms that are strung and are worn around the waist. Each, Cat was told had some magical power. As her aunt tries to explain its powers, Cat dismisses her as a little crazy.
Upon arriving at the old castle they are met by Lady Lenore who is very odd. She lays out the rules and tells the children their lessons will begin the next day. That’s when the book takes a creepy turn. The children are locked in their rooms and when they sneak out they find there are rooms, halls and secret passages everywhere. There are real people who appear like ghosts and there are the weird and crazy noises that come from within the walls.
This story is filled with dark magic, spies and puzzles. The final chapters will keep readers on their edge of their seats for sure!
I only wish the author would have given more history about the war—like what a blitz was, what countries were in the war, how spies were used and how disruptive the war was to families all over the world.
Train I Ride
By Paul Mosier
New York: Harper, 2017.
Genre: Realistic Fiction Pages 181 Grades 5 and Up
I loved, loved this story. It is one of heart and heartbreak, aloneness but not loneliness. This is the story of twelve year old Rydr as she is headed from California to Chicago on an Amtrak Train with a special box, her backpack and no money (she blew it all in the station before she left). She is alone but not really alone. She has to be accompanied by a train matron who is assigned to minors who are traveling alone without a parent or an adult. That’s where the story begins—Rydr’s grandmother died while she was caring for her in California—it seems she was the logical choice to pick to care for after her mother died. Rydr was just settling in at school (kind of) and was beginning to make great strides with her therapist when her grandmother suddenly died. Although, Rydr was not happy living with gramma she knew that she would always be there for her—unlike her drug addicted mother. Rydr’s meets people aboard this train that the reader will soon not forget. This is a timely coming of age story filled with compassion, kindness, hope, forgiveness and love.
Maxi’s Secrets (Or, What You Can Learn From a Dog)
By Lynn Plourde
New York: Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016.
Genre: Realistic Fiction Grades: 5-7 Pages 262
This is a wonderful heartwarming story about a very short boy, his neighbor who is blind and his dog who is deaf. Timminy, the short boy is bullied at his new school, his neighbor Abby is confident and a confidant and Maxi; is the adorable and loveable puppy. Like many of my readers, I hate sad dog books and this book opens with, “Let’s get this part over with—it’s no secret. My dog, Maxi dies.” I am not sure that really prepares me for when it happens in the book (it did not because I sobbed for a couple of minutes) but I knew the lessons like–#51 “Best friends are forever friends. They make you laugh and cry and laugh some more—even the ones who have moved on.”–would definitely make this story touch my heart and it did!
By Karen Rivers
New York: Algonquin Young Readers, 2017.
Genre: Realistic Fiction Grades: 5 and Up Pages: 279
Mischa is twelve years old, has two older “normal” sisters and her parents might just call her peculiar. Ish, as she is known by family and friends, wants nothing more than to be the first human to live on Mars. She is okay with being up their alone and can deal with the possibility of never coming back as long as she can be the first. First is important to Ish because she has always felt slightly inferior—even when she was adopted she felt her sister was chosen (because she is so adorable) and Ish was just the plain looking little sister who was just part of the package. Ish does not make friends easily; she does not have a sense of humor, often has headaches and is not materialistic. She had a best friend named Tig, who said they would always be friends no matter what but he moved away and she has not heard from him since. Now a nerdy kid has moved into his house; she is hopeful that he might be a friend until the first day of school when he makes fun of her! Then her headaches get worse until one day when she has a seizure and wets her pants right at school. All the kids laugh at her wetting herself. It was that time she is whisked off to the hospital and Ish’s life changes forever. Karen Rivers writes a heart wrenching story about friends, family and making sure you always stay right with the world. Never let a day pass when you do not right all your wrongs.
By K.A. Holt
New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017.
Genre: Fantasy Pages: 285 Grades: 5 -7
This was a fun summer read! Buck and Lizzie are huge fans of the series, Triumphant Gnome Syndicate, and book three is getting ready for it release. This book makes several references/parallels to the Harry Potter phenomena, like the midnight release party that is swamped by fans. At the release party in Buck’s home town a surprise visit occurs at his bookstore—it is Harold Macinaw, famed author of the Gnome Series. When he makes his appearance there is an explosion and the famous author goes missing. That’s when things get really strange—kids are be summoned and walk off into a bottomless dumpster and replacement kids end up in their spot. Parents/adults seem to be frozen like zombies. It appears Buck and Lizzie are not effected but are now in pursuit of this missing author and Buck’s little sister who jumped into the mysterious dumpster. They find themselves in a most peculiar adventure—they have landed in the underground world of the Gnomes! Not just any world—the world of Gnomes that was created by Harold Macinaw. Good thing that Buck is one of the best at the Triumphant Gnome Syndicate trivia—he is going to need that knowledge to navigate in this strange world. Lizzie ends up going with him by mistake—but luckily she also knows a lot about the world of Gnomes and is the one who remains well-grounded throughout the entire adventure. Check out this strange, action packed fantasy to see if Buck has what it takes to solve the bizarre mystery, save his sister and the author. Colin Jack does the art work for the cover and the pictures that periodically show up in the book—a fun addition indeed.
By Svetlana Chmakova
New York: Yen Press, 2017.
Genre: Graphic Novel Realistic Fiction Grades: 5 and Up Pages: 239
This is a great realistic fiction, graphic novel from the author who brought us Awkward. Yes, middle school students are very awkward but they are also brave! Author Chmakova likens middle school to one of the Top 10 Natural Disasters! Not only does main character Jensen agree but also he thinks he is in a video game where his mission is just to make it through each day… “without getting eaten by the game monsters…” Just who are those monsters? The math teacher who has no mercy for mediocre, the girls who laugh at him and the boys who bully him for being overweight. Therefore, each day he runs “the gauntlet” where the only safe spots are art club and the school newspaper. Jensen is the boy at school who sits alone at lunch and the one not picked for a group in class. However, today when the teacher asks for a volunteer to partner with Jensen, Jorge raises his hand and volunteers! Jorge is a big jock with a soft spot for those who get bullied and so Jensen begins to have some allies in school. This is a great book to help students establish some empathy as you feel the pain of being laughed at, being used and finally cheering as Jensen becomes brave enough to speak up for himself!
By April Henry
New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2016.
Genre: Mystery/Thriller Grades: 6 and up Pages: 227
Best-selling author April Henry never disappoints! Opening chapter has Olivia running for her life—knowing if she slows down and is caught, she will be killed—just like her mother. Only her mother was murdered fourteen years ago and Olivia would not have been in her current situation if she had not decided to find out what really happened that day when they all went into the woods looking for a Christmas tree to cut down. Olivia was three at the time and was with both her mother and her father but the killer dropped her off at Walmart before leaving Medford. All these years Olivia was sure it was her no good father but when she returns to Medford the entire city becomes full of suspects. Henry has written another great who-dun-it, that is a page-turner to the end! Middle school students will love this thriller!