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.
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 Carol Goodman
New York: Viking, 2017.
Genre: Fantasy 355 Pages Grades 5 and Up
This was an interesting read. It is historical, a mystery and a fantasy book all rolled up into one. The story is about four kids coming from very different backgrounds and meeting on December 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. They become unified in the quest to stop a Nazi plot that is to take place four days later in New York City! It is their diversity that unites them—one a Japanese American, one Jewish, who was sent to the U.S from Europe when his parents were taken to ghettos/concentration camps, one an orphan separated from siblings, and one who is of Indian descent. They have each been selected to find the Kelmsbury Manuscript, which has been separated into, parts—all containing clues that will help them to figure out the plot against the U.S.A. The Kelmsbury is no ordinary book; it is about the legends of King Arthur. Each of the characters in the story unknowingly takes on a role in the book and has a special power to help them. See how they unite, overcome self-serving behavior to have good triumph over evil!
The Bicycle Spy
By Yona Zeldis McDonough
New York: Scholastic, 2016
Historical Fiction 193 pages Grades 5 and Up
This is a great, quick and easy middle grade read! This story takes place during WW II in a small French town called Aucoin, where Marcel and his parents lived and ran a bakery. Marcel loved school and the Tour de France, a famous bike race held every year in Paris. In fact, he would often ride his bike through town dreaming about one day being in that great race. This year, 1943, the race was canceled again due to the war. Although German soldiers occupied much of France Marcel’s little town was more neutral, in fact, some people were part of the French Resistance Movement. But you had to be careful because your friends or neighbors could be Nazi sympathizers. Marcel attended school, rode his bike and often made deliveries for his parent’s bakery. What he didn’t know was that some of his friends and family were in great danger and he might be the only one who could help them! This is a great book for younger middle school students as it will give them a perspective of on World War II that they might not be familiar with. A book of courage and friendship.
Yona Zeldis McDonough Website
By Karen Harrington
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016.
Grades 5 and Up Realistic Fiction 344 Pages
Wayne Kovok is fact nerd! He loves to collect facts and whenever there is a lull in the conversation or when he gets anxious and doesn’t know what to say—he spouts out a fact! Now many might think him odd but not Sandy Showalter, the prettiest girl in his middle school—they actually went out!
Wayne tells the story in two parts—before and after. Before—when his divorced mom, retired drill sergeant grandfather who often is very critical of Wayne, and his Uncle Reed are out to lunch. They are all getting together before Uncle Reed gets deployed for the fourth time and life returns to normal.
Then there was a tragic event that makes Wayne get on a plane and on the return to home flight–the after begins. After—the plane crash. During a storm, a back part of their airplane comes apart leaving a gaping hole in the side of the plane. The pilot was able to crash land the plane and some survived; including Wayne and his mother. Wayne suffered a crushed windpipe and a large “L” shaped gash across his face. Wayne was left feeling a loser with survivors remorse, unable to speak and spout off facts. To make things worse his granddad moves in to help out and his estranged father continues to try and establish a relationship with Wayne.
You will not be disappointed in this story about family relationships and healing both physically and emotionally.
By Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
New York: First Second, 2017.
Grades 3-6 Graphic Novel 213 pages
This amazing memoir is a great reminder to adults that one of the hardest parts of growing up is friends and to students—you are not alone when you struggle with friend relationships and where you fit in.
This is the story of New York Times Bestselling author Shannon Hale. She is portrayed as spunky red head who just wants real friends. But who are our real friends? Are they the popular group, new kids who move in, the ones who moved out? Shannon Hale makes these struggles come alive as she talks about the anxiety symptoms that began to manifest as result of trying to find real friends. This is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel!