The Thief of Worlds by Bruce Coville

The Thief of Worlds

Bruce Coville, Author

Random House, Fiction, Apr. 27, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Winds, Fantasy, Magic, Other worlds, Global disaster

Book Jacket Synopsis:

What happens when the wind stops? The air grows hot and still and hard to breathe. Hospitals fill with patients. The sky becomes hazy as dust clings to the air. The world begins to panic.

For Hurricane, the global disaster strikes at his core. He got his name because he was born during a hurricane, and he has always felt a strangely intense connection to the wind. And now his mother is one of the sick people in the hospital. But what can he do? He’s just a kid.

Then an old bearded man, Zephron Windlord, shows up from another world claiming he is in charge of making the wind. He seeks Hurricane’s help to find the wind thief and rescue the magical horn that will fix everything. In fact, the Windlord claims that Hurricane is the only one who can do it. Is he delusional? Can magic be real? And how can finding the magical horn rest on Hurricane’s twelve-year-old shoulders?

When all this turns out to be true, Hurricane embarks on the adventure of his life: a journey to different worlds where he will make friends unlike any people he has ever known. He will discover courage, strength, humor and ability to bring people together.

The classic epic fantasy from beloved author Bruce Coville will enthrall readers while it reminds them that magic lies in friendship — and that friendship just might have the power to save the world.

Why I like this book:

The Thief of the Worlds is a riveting, richly imagined epic tale of loyalty, bravery and friendship that will make your heart soar. It is an action-packed adventure with many complex plot twists that will keep readers guessing what will happen next. Then ending was a complete surprise. That’s a good story. 

The characters are rich, memorable and quirky. Hurricane is a 12-year-old Black boy from Chicago. His neighbors call him  “Breezeboy” and laugh about how he dances with the wind. So when the wind suddenly stops, he feels like he’s lost his best friend — until an odd bearded old man, Zephron Windlord, appears at his door and asks Hurricane to help  rescue a stolen horn that he uses to start the winds. Hurricane thinks he’s crazy, but travels with the Windlord to the top of the world on the back of a huge magical tiger with wide ebony wings. 

On Hurricane’s journey to find the horn, he enters different worlds. He meets Lura, the blue goddess of water, who is in search of a stolen basin from her world that has caused a drought; and Amberjon, a three-foot-tall man, who is seeking the lost spirit flame that lights and warms his frozen world. Together they realize that the environmental suffering everywhere is being caused by the same dangerous villain, so they join forces and search for him together.

Coville’s storytelling is brilliant and he amazingly builds four very unique worlds in a single novel. His writing is polished and his narrative will inspire readers to think about how friendship and listening to the pain of others may be the key to saving the world. 

Bruce Coville is the author of more than 100 books for children and young adults, including the international bestseller My Teacher Is an Alien and the wildly popular Unicorn Chronicles series. He has been a teacher, a toy maker, a magazine editor, a gravedigger, and a cookware salesman. He is also the founder of Full Cast Audio. Bruce lives in Syracuse, New York, with his wife, author and illustrator Katherine Coville.

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The World Between Blinks by Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin

The World Between Blinks

Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin, Authors

Quill Tree Books, Fiction, Jan. 5, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes:  Cousins, Family vacation, Loss, Fantasy, Adventure, Mystery, History 

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Whenever Jake and Marisol get together, adventure follows. They have their late Nana to thank for that. Her epic trips and treasure hunts were the stuff of family legend.

This summer, with the whole family reuniting for one last summer vacation at Nana’s home in South Carolina, the cousins are in for a legendary trip of their own.

Following a map Nana left behind, Jake and Marisol sneak out to a nearby lighthouse hoping to search for treasure. —they accidentally slip into another world! The World Between Blinks is a magical place, where all sorts of lost things and people wind up. Everywhere they turn, the cousins find real mysteries from history and a few they thought were just myths, from pilot Amelia Earhart to the fabled city of Atlantis. Proof to Marisol that the world is as as weird and wondrous as Nana has always claimed.

But the man who holds the key to Jake and Marisol’s journey home doesn’t want to be found . . . and if the cousins don’t catch him fast, they could end up lost in this world good.

Why I like this book:

The World Between Blinks is  heartwarming story about family, love, loss and memory. It’s an entertaining and magical summer adventure into a world where lost people, places and things go when they are lost or forgotten. If you ever wanted to see dinosaurs, London’s Crystal Palace, Atlantis, and the Loch Ness Monster, or meet Queen Nefertiti and Amelia Earhart, or hold the Great Mogul Diamond, than this book is for you — history made fun.

The world-building is magical. The plot is clever and imaginative. The authors take readers on a journey that will surprise them at every turn. Readers will discover what happens to the memories of the lost people who are living in this magical world. They will encounter the Curators who document every new arrival. I appreciated how seamlessly everything was woven together. 

Chapters alternate between Marisol’s and Jake’s voices, giving great insight into the reasons why they embark upon their journey. Marisol struggles with the grief of losing not only Nana, but her beach house which holds so many good memories. The family members want to sell and don’t want to deal with the upkeep. On the other hand, Jake is sad because he is constantly saying goodbye to friends, schools, and homes — his mother is a traveling diplomat. And there is a mysterious villain who convinces the cousins he can get them home if they steal a special ledger for him.    

Make sure you check out the Curators’ Files that has catalogue entries on just a few of the people and places you’ll find in The World Between Blinks. There are many more fun details added.

Favorite Quote: “The world between blinks is always there. It is everywhere and it is nowhere…People see it every day, but they rarely pay attention. The grown-ups are too busy doing grown-up things to stop and look, really look. Most kids are too distracted to examine it for long…But there are those who pause a little longer. The daydreamers….They stare into the dark places: blink, blink. They see.”  

Amie Kaufman and Ryan Graudin are two bestselling, award-winning authors united by their love of history, adventure, magical stories and lost places. Ryan has explored the ruins of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, and Amie has picnicked in the lost Roman city of Ostia Antica. When the learned about a vanishing island off the coast of South Carolina and the lighthouse left rising alone from the waves, the knew they had a story to tell. Amie lives in Melbourne, Australia, and Ryan lives in Charleston, South Carolina. You may visit Annie and Ryan at their websites. 

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee (Rick Riordan Presents)

Dragon Pearl (Rick Riordan Presents)

Yoon Ha Lee, Author

Disney Hyperion, Fiction, 2019

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Brother and sister, Space adventure, Korean Mythology, Magical creatures, Ghosts, Science Fiction, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Thirteen-year-old Min comes from a long line of fox spirits. But you’d never know it by looking at her. To keep the family safe, Min’s mothers insists that none of them use any fox magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. She dreams of joining the Space Forces like her older brother, Jun. Together they dream of seeing all of the Thousand Worlds and to find a way to help their own neglected, dust-ridden and impoverished planet, Jinju. 

When a special investigator arrives at Min’s home and informs her family that Jun is suspected of deserting the Space Force with other cadets to go search for the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is very wrong. Jun wound never desert his battle cruiser, Pale Lightning, even for a powerful mystical object.  Min has only one option — to search for Jun. Using her fox-magic, she uses her shape-shifting and Charm casting abilities to navigate gamblers, pirates, vengeful ghosts and sneak onto find her brother’s ship. 

 What to like about this book:

This is the second Rick Riordan Presents novel I’ve reviewed (even though I didn’t read his series.)  The blurb I remember seeing for Dragon Pearl was “space opera meets Korean mythology.” This pretty much encapsulates the book.  It isn’t contemporary, but crafted out of Korean mythological themes. The mythology is never explained in this compelling story, because it is the the foundation for the world and characters.

Dragon Pearl is high adventure with a lot of risks. The world-building is seamless. Min is a courageous character dedicated to finding her brother and clearing his name, while risking her own life at the same time. Her fox traits (like heightened hearing and scent recognition) are an immense help to her. And she is clever with charms that distract and manipulate people. There are many unexpected plot twists in Dragon Pearl and a special ending that surprised me. I love not being able to guess the ending and won’t give away any SPOILERS.  

Kudos to Yoon Ha Lee for the way she handles gender variances as an accepted fact of life. Cadets in the Space Force wear pronoun pins that tell them how to refer to each other. Lee also addresses racism through the tension between the supernatural beings, like the dragons, goblins, tigers, and foxes.

I recommend Dragon Pearl to lovers of science fiction, fantasy, mythology and space adventures. It will transport you to a world far beyond your imagination. I hope there is a sequel.

Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean American who grew up in both Texas and South Korea, learning folktales of wily foxes, shape-shifting tigers, and benevolent dragons. Yoon was inspired to write about foxes in space because everything is better in space — except the ice cream. Yoon is also the author of the Machineries of Empire trilogy: Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, and Revenant Gun. For more information, follow Yoon on Twitter @motomaratai. 

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

The Last Fallen Star by Graci Kim

The Last Fallen Star: A Gifted Clans Novel

Graci Kim, Author (Rick Riordan Presents)

Disney Hyperion, Fiction, May 4, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12 

Pages: 336

Themes: Witchcraft, Sisters, Quest, Goddesses, Korean Mythology, Korean Americans, Fantasy

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Riley Oh can’t wait to see her sister, Hattie, get initiated into the Gom clan — a powerful lineage of Korean healing witches their family has been part of for generations. Hattie will get her Gi bracelet and finally be able to cast spells without adult supervision. Although Riley is desperate to follow in her sister’s footsteps when she herself turns thirteen, she’s a saram – a person without magic. Riley was adopted, and despite having memorized every healing spell she’s ever heard, she often feels like the odd one out in her family and the gifted community.

Then Hattie gets an idea: What if the two of them could cast a spell that would allow Riley to share Hattie’s magic? Their sleuthing reveals a promising incantation in the family’s old spell book, and the sisters decide to perform it at Hattie’s initiation ceremony. If it works, no one will ever treat Riley as an outsider again. It’s a perfect plan!

Until it isn’t. When the sisters attempt to violate the laws of the Godrealm, Hattie’s life ends up hanging in the balance. To save her, Riley has to accomplish an impossible task: find the last fallen star. But what is the star, and how can she find it? 

As Riley embarks on her search, she finds herself meeting fantastic creatures and collaborating with her worst enemies. And when she uncovers secrets that challenge everything she has been taught to believe, Riley must decide what it means to be a witch, what it means to be family, and what it means to belong.

What to love about this book:

Since Graci Kim’s book is newly released and is sure to be a bestseller and favorite among readers, I will be careful not to give away any spoilers.

I was mesmerized by The Last Fallen Star!  I could not put it down. I normally take notes or put tabs in parts of a book I want to share, but I was so engrossed, I forgot. Her illustrious writing skills and beautiful world-building are perfect for this thrilling action-packed adventure that is magical, realistic, humorous, and dangerous. What an exciting way to learn about Korean mythology, witch clans, goddesses, and magical creatures with a contemporary Korean-American twist! I fell in love with this world right away! And I can’t forget to mention all the savory Korean food. 

What makes this story sing is Kim’s well-drawn characters that leap off the pages. Riley is an outcast because she is adopted and not gifted with a magical talent. Her heart longs to really belong to the Gom Clan. She wants to be a healer one day, but she’s vulnerable. She faces prejudice from both adults and peers. But what she really wants is to be accepted for who she truly is. Hattie is the best sister ever and loves Riley so much that she takes dangerous risks to share her own power with Riley. Riley couldn’t ask for a better friend in Emmett, who is somewhat of an outcast since his mother was a witch and his father a saram. He really understands Riley and supports her —  and he is funny, brave and loyal! There are many more characters and creatures that are lovable and evil, but they will find their way into the hearts of readers. In fact, I would love to have Boris in my life. You’ll have to read the novel to know who/what Boris is!

The fast-paced plot is complex with so many turns, that readers will enjoy being surprised! It is hard to guess what will happen next. And I didn’t see the ending coming at all — in fact I didn’t know what to expect. Readers will be interested in knowing that there will be more to Gifted Clans series with The Last Fallen Moon scheduled for release in the summer of 2022.  There is a lot more territory to cover in this mythical world. Make sure you read the introduction by Rick Riordan and check out his short interview with Graci Kim below.

Gracie Kim is a Korean Kiwi diplomat turned author who writes about the magic she wants to see in the world. The Last Fallen Star is her middle grade debut. In a previous life she used to be a cooking-show host, and once ran a business that turned children’s drawings into plushies. When she’s not lost in her imagination, you’ll find Graci drinking flat whites, eating ramyeon, and most likely hugging a dog.  She lives in New Zealand with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter @gracikim and Instagram @gracikimwrites. 

Rick Riordan is the author of five New York Times #1 best-selling middle grade series, including Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which brings Greek mythology to life for contemporary readers. The goal of Rick Riordan Presents is to publish highly entertaining books by authors from underrepresented cultures and backgrounds, to allow them to tell their own stories inspired by the mythology, folklore, and culture of their heritage. Rick’s Twitter handle is @RickRiordan. Visit him at his 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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Unicorn Island by Donna Galanti

Unicorn Island (Volume 1)

Donna Galanti, Author

Bethany Stancliffe, Illustrator

Andrews McMeel Publishing, Feb. 9, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Unicorns, Mythical creatures, Mysterious Island, Fantasy

Synopsis:

Beyond the mist lies a magical secret waiting to be discovered . . .

When Sam arrives in Foggy Harbor, population 3,230, all she can see is a small, boring town that’s way too far from home. And knowing that she’s stuck there all summer with her grumpy Uncle Mitch only makes things worse.

But when Sam discovers a hidden trapdoor leading to a room full of strange artifacts, she realizes Foggy Harbor isn’t as sleepy as it seems. With the help of a new friend, Sam discovers an extraordinary secret beyond the fog: an island of unicorns whose fates are intertwined with hers.

Why I like this book:

Donna Galanti’s Unicorn Island is a compelling contemporary fantasy that is full of wonder, mystery and tension.  It will captivate readers’ imaginations and lure them into a magical world of mythical beasts.

Samantha (Sam) is a curious and resilient protagonist who longs for a place to call home. She moves every six months because of her musician mother’s playing with new orchestras. With an upcoming European tour, she literally dumps Sam on Uncle Mitch’s door step in Foggy Harbor for the summer without asking him. Fortunately Sam quickly becomes best friends with the Tuck, the veterinarian’s son. Uncle Mitch is somewhat stern and elusive at first, but Sam’s first impressions may be wrong.

Galanti’s narrative is engaging and immersive,  Her plot is solid with elements of danger that will keep readers quickly turning pages. The story also has a strong element of realism. This is the first volume with five books to follow. Yes, it ends with some interesting cliffhangers.

Although Unicorn Island is for students 8-12, it will also appeal to younger readers (7-10) who aren’t quite ready for wordy and lengthy MG fantasy novels. The book has a large type face and includes many gorgeous colorful illustrations by Bethany Stancliffe, which add to the magic.  I believe this book would also appeal to reluctant readers and kids with dyslexia.

Make sure you check out the great backmatter at the end of the book. Galanti shares some history on unicorns, wyverns, veterinarians, the pirates of the Carolina’s and Ocracoke and Assateague Islands, where the wild horses and ponies roam free.

Epic partnered with Andrews McMeel, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, to release the series as an illustrated hardcover. The next 5 books in the series come out on Epic, a digital library this May. Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand (Volume 2), will be released in hardcover next winter.

Donna Galanti wanted to be a writer ever since she wrote a screenplay at seven years old and acted it out with the neighborhood kids. She attended an English school, housed in a magical castle, where her wild imagination was held back only by her itchy uniform (bowler hat and tie included!). She now lives with her family and two crazy cats in an old farmhouse and is the author of the middle-grade fantasy adventures Joshua and The Lightning Road and Joshua and the Arrow Realm.

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Amari and the Night Brothers (Supernatural Investigations, 1)

B.B. Alston, Author

Balzer + Bray, Fiction, Jan. 19, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: African American, Heroes, Fantasy, Mythical Creatures, Supernatural talents, Racism

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Amari Peters has never stopped believing her missing brother, Quinton, is alive. Not even when the police told her otherwise, or when she got in trouble for standing up to bullies who said he was gone for good.

So when she finds a ticking briefcase in his closet, containing a nomination for a summer tryout at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, she’s certain the secretive organization holds the key to locating Quinton—if only she can wrap her head around the idea of magicians, fairies, aliens, and other supernatural creatures all being real.

Now she must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about magic their whole lives. No matter how hard she tries, Amari can’t seem to escape their intense doubt and scrutiny—especially once her supernaturally enhanced talent is deemed “illegal.” With an evil magician threatening the supernatural world, and her own classmates thinking she’s an enemy, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t stick it out and pass the tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton.

Why I like this book:

The cover is breathtaking with Black girl magic swirling around and through Amari’s hands. The title is done in beautiful gold lettering. Amari and the Night Brothers will appeal to readers! The book is pitched for fans of Harry Potter, Nevermoor and Men in Black — I’d also add Keeper of the Lost Cities.

B.B. Alston has created a thrilling action-packed adventure that is realistic, magical and humorous. Alston doesn’t shy away from including contemporary themes that address racism and discrimination, which Amari faces at home and at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs.  At home she is an outcast because she is a Black girl from the projects attending a private school. At the bureau she is an outcast because she manifests as a magician, which is the only talent that is illegal in the supernatural world due to the evil Night Brothers — magicians who used dark magic to conquer death. Now she faces prejudice from both adults and peers. Amari doesn’t allow her challenges to define her.

The characters are amazing. Amari is determined, strong-willed and believable. She’s not at the summer camp to stand out, she is on a mission to find her brother, Quinton. She has a courageous spirit and believes that he’s alive somewhere and she’s going to track him down. She befriends her roommate, Elsie who is a technopath/inventor and is also bullied by her peers. Dylan manifests in physics and  technology. His sister, Lara, who bullies Amari, manifests as a superhuman athlete (superhero). Their missing sister Maria was Quinton’s partner. Dylan and Amari become partners as they train hard to make it into the Bureau of Investigations, so they can become junior agents.

The setting is contemporary. The bureau turns smart and talented students into geniuses who they put through a rigorous training programs required by the department they wish to join — and there are many departments like the technology bureau.  The Bureau of Supernatural Affairs resembles a NORAD control center where agents monitor magical creatures — boogie people, fairies, dwarfs, mermaids, witches, werewolves, aliens, Big Foot, the Abominable Snowman, and evil magicians — for their protection and the protection of the world. There are agents monitoring global activities, investigations, and imprisoned criminals. It is amusing when the new president of the United States is briefed by the Bureau about top secret supernatural activities in the world, he passes out.

I highly recommend this book to readers who are looking for an exciting adventure that will keep them glued to the pages and guessing what will happen next. It doesn’t contain an excessive amount of detail and may be perfect for reluctant readers. It is a sparkling read. Yes, there are major surprises. The ending is satisfying, but leaves a lot of room for the next two volumes in the trilogy. Readers will be interested in knowing that Universal Pictures has optioned the rights to Amari and the Night Brothers. So there WILL be a movie!

B.B. Alston lives in Lexington, South Carolina. Amari and the Night Brothers is hi debut middle grade novel. When not writing, he can be found eating too many sweet and exploring country roads to see where the lead.

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.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Unlocked by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Unlocked

Shannon Messenger, Author

Aladdin, Fiction, Nov. 17, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Fantasy, Comprehensive guide, Novella, Magic, Abilities, Magical Creatures, Evil, Relationships, Friendships

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Sophie Foster is regrouping — and Keefe is recovering — after the battle in Loamnore. And now, devastating discoveries threaten to destroy everything they’ve been fighting for.

Answers have never been more elusive — or more needed — and each new challenge drives deeper wedges between allies, friends, and enemies. Impossible choices lie ahead. So do necessary sacrifices — if Sophie and her friends are willing to make them.

Told through the perspectives of both Sophie and Keefe, this newest chapter in the Keeper of the Lost Cities series is packed full of hard truths, new powers and game-changing tsits — and that’s not all!

Unlocked Book 8.5 offers a comprehensive guide to the world of the Lost Cities, including never-before-seen artwork, a map of the Lost Cities, character profiles, world details, quizzes, and Iggy coloring page, and elvin recipes. Peek into the Council’s top-secret Registry files, as well as Keefe’s lengthy Foxfire disciplinary record and Sophie’s equally long medical report — and so much more!

Why I love this book:

Fans will find this book different from Shannon’s first eight novels. Unlocked actually gives readers a nice break to peer more deeply into all of the action and details of the first eight novels in greater depth. I find Unlocked a refreshing break to let my mind catch up before Shannon releases the conclusion of the series in Book 9 next fall. I’ve often wondered how she managed to keep all of the intricate details and plots straight in her mind. Unlocked will do the same for readers! The information is enlightening and fun.

The first two-thirds of the book is informational and full of secrets, profiles, information on the Council, the Black Swan and the Neverseens. There is a section on all the intelligent species, culture and their relationship with the elves.  And there are beautiful colorful illustrations of the main characters and eight significant scenes from each of the first eight books followed by a commentary of Keefe’s memories of the major events. What surprised me the most was the youthfulness of the elves — even though readers know that elves live many centuries — it still surprised me to see that the adults looked like they were in their early 20s and 30s. In my mind, Councilor Bronte is ancient — but he’s not.  My favorite illustration is of Flori under Calla’s Panakes tree.

The last third is a 200-page novella that focuses on Sophie and Keefe and is written in alternating voices. The novella picks up after the ending of Legacy, when Keefe’s mother-of-the-year, Lady Gisela, exposes him to a powerful energy with the hopes of triggering dangerous abilities within him. Actually I like this stand-alone novella and see how important it is for readers to hear directly from Keefe about what has happened to him, his fears, concerns and his decisions for the future. That is all I am going to reveal about the novella, as there are many who are reading their holiday copies of the book. I will add that the novella will make global readers eager for Book 9. You know Shannon couldn’t end the novella without one huge cliffhanger! And she did so with a big smiley face!

So while we read, Shannon is masterfully writing and plotting the finale. Unlocked has been an ambitious and important undertaking. But It sure is a handy guide for what is to come!

Resources: Visit Simon and Schuster for a free downloadable curriculum guide.

Shannon Messenger graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where she learned — among other things — that she liked watching movies much better than making them. She studied art, screenwriting, and film production, but she realized her real passion was writing stories for children. She’s the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the award-winning middle grade series Keeper of the Lost Cities, as well as the Sky Fall series for young adults. Her books have been featured on multiple state reading lists, published in numerous countries, and translated into many different languages. She lives in Southern California with an embarrassing number of cats. Visit Shannon 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.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

Mananaland by Pam Munoz Ryan

Mañanaland

Pam Muñoz Ryan

Scholastic, Fiction, Mar. 3, 2020

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Refugees, Oppression, Loss, Underground movements, Adventure, Courage, Hope, Freedom

Synopsis:

Maximiliano Córdoba loves stories, especially the legend Buelo tells him about a mythical gatekeeper who can guide brave travelers on a journey into tomorrow.

If Max could see tomorrow, he would know if he’d make Santa Maria’s celebrated fútbol team and whether he’d ever meet his mother, who disappeared when he was a baby. He longs to know more about her, but Papá won’t talk. So when Max uncovers a buried family secret–involving an underground network of guardians who lead people fleeing a neighboring country to safety–he decides to seek answers on his own.

With a treasured compass, a mysterious stone rubbing, and Buelo’s legend as his only guides, he sets out on a perilous quest to discover if he is true of heart and what the future holds.

This timeless tale of struggle, hope, and the search for tomorrow has much to offer today about compassion and our shared humanity.

Why I like this book:

Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Mañanaland is a beautifully crafted novel that sweeps readers into a fantasy world that feels oddly familiar, but is set in the Americas, past or future.  The setting, the characters, the courageous plot and the gorgeous imagery are carefully intertwined and create a thrilling experience for readers.

Max’s family are masons who have built 200  bridges all over the country.  But there is a secret that links the bridges to people who need to escape from oppression to a neighboring country. Max discovers his Papá and Buelo are part of the underground network dedicated to helping people. I love the symbolism of the bridges they build.

Readers will admire 12-year-old Max and his brave resolve to take on a dangerous and arduous journey to help a young girl, Isadora, escape abuse and meet up with her sister in Mañanaland. His father and Buelo are gone and wouldn’t approve. Max may be inexperienced as a guardian, but he is smart, brave, and resourceful. He is determined to prove that he can responsibly and safely guide Isadora to Yadra, the next guardian. Yadra is a towering woman with long silver hair, who lives beneath a secret bridge. Max also hopes she may shed some light on his mother’s disappearance, which his Papá has kept a secret. Is his mother in Mañanaland?

The story parallels our world today with a timely and relevant message that will introduce readers to the refugee crisis, without pinpointing a location. The role of guardians is to help those who are seeking asylum because they are abused, marginalized, and oppressed by a dictator and his military. Many have lost  loved ones and families have been split. However, as Max learns along his journey, “Mañaland is not a destination. It’s a…way of thinking.” (Page 209)

The plot is dangerous with many harrowing moments. Ryan’s deliberate pacing keeps readers fully engaged and wondering what will happen next. She nicely pulls everything together in a realistic and satisfying ending.

Pam Muñoz Ryan is the recipient of the NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Award and the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement. Her celebrated novels –Echo, Esperazna Rising, The Dreamer, Riding Freedom, Becoming Naomi León, and Paint the Wind — have received countless accolades are are treasured by readers around the world. Ryan lives near San Diego, California, with her family.

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

*Reviewed from a library book.

 

A Wish in the Dark by Christina Soontornvat

A Wish in the Dark

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 24, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes:  Fantasy, Privilege, Oppression, Poverty, Justice, Friendship, Courage, Self-discovery

Book Synopsis:

After a Great Fire destroys the city of Chattana, a man appears before the starving people and offers to bring peace and order to the city. He is called the Governor and he magically lights the city. For Pong, who was born in Namwon Prison, the magical lights across the river represent freedom and he dreams of the day he will be able to walk among them in the city. But when Pong escapes from the prison, he realizes that the world outside is just as unfair as the one behind bars. The wealthy dine and dance under bright orb lights, while the poor toil away in darkness. Worst of all, Pong’s prison tattoo marks him as a fugitive who can never be truly free.

Nok, the prison warden’s perfect daughter, is bent on tracking Pong down and restoring her family’s good name. But as Nok hunts Pong through the alleys and canals of Chattana, she uncovers secrets that make her question the truths she has always held dear. Set in a Thai-inspired fantasy world, Christina Soontornvat’s twist on Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a dazzling, fast-paced adventure that explores the difference between law and justice — and asks whether one child can shine a light in the dark.

Why I like this book:

A Wish in the Dark is a timeless Asian fantasy that is exquisitely penned by Christina Soontornvat.  Her storytelling and literary style elevate readers’ sense of wonder. The magical Thai setting, well-crafted characters, riveting plot and the gorgeous imagery are so beautifully intertwined that they create an electrifying experience.

At the beginning of the story, the main characters Pong, Somkit and Nok, are 10 years old. As the story unfolds readers will experience their character growth to age 13, as they journey towards self-discovery, which is different for each. Pong is an observer, who has become restless in the confines of a prison. He wants his freedom. Pong looks out for his best friend, Somkit, a small boy who has health issues. When Pong flees, he feels guilt over leaving his defenseless friend behind. The bond between the boys is so natural that they feel like brothers. Nok is the warden’s daughter. She lives a privileged life and is brainwashed by the Governor’s magic and believes his teachings are sacred. Pong and Nok are complete opposites and their journey is fraught with tension and excitement.

This stand-alone novel deals with many social justice issues: the inequality among classes, poverty, oppression, greed, corruption and power. In this novel, power is used by the Governor to control and manipulate those he claims to care about. In Father Cham, a monk, and Ampai, a woman living among the poorest citizens, power is used in loving kindness for the good of all people.  It is a particularly relevant discussion point for students in classrooms.

Verdict: This book is a gem. It may appear to be dark, but don’t let that fool you. Because at its center, there is heart and light.

Christina Soontornvat grew up in a small Texas town, where she spent many childhood days behind the counter of her parents’ Thai restaurant with her nose in a book. She is the author of engaging picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books for children, including the fantasy series, The Changelings, and the upcoming nonfiction account of the Thai Cave Rescue, All Thirteen. She now lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and two children.

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

*Review copy provided by the publisher in an exchange for a review.

Twist by Sarah Cannon

Twist

Sarah Cannon, Author

Feiwel and Friends, Feb. 11, 2020

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Monsters, Fantasy world, Magical creatures, Creativity, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Eli has a dream. He’s going to be the next Stephen King, and he’s just created his best monster yet!

Neha has a secret. Her notebook is filled with drawings of a fantasy world called Forest Creeks, and it’s become inhabited by wonderful imaginary creatures. But her new friends are in danger . . .

Court has a gift, both for finding trouble and for stopping it. And when she accidentally ends up with one of Neha’s drawings, she quickly realizes that the monsters raiding magical Forest Creeks are coming from Eli’s stories.

When these three creative kids come together, they accidentally create a doorway from Neha’s sketch book of Forest Creeks into the real world. Now every monster that Eli ever imagined has been unleashed upon their town!  Only Eli really knows what his monsters are capable of doing. The kids must band together to save their town and a fantasy world from horror-story monsters that come to life.

Why I like this book:

Sarah Cannon’s novel, Twist, is an imaginative, scary and offbeat adventure story. Readers who love dark humor and wacky storytelling are in for a treat! There are quirky main characters they’ll root for and monsters lurking on every page. The story is fast-paced and combines a spirited narrative with clever wordplay. Fans of Cannon’s first novel, Oddity, will cheer for Twist.

I marvel at Cannon’s ability to build fantasy worlds with a strong realistic “twist.” The standout characters, Eli, Neha and Court are kids with real problems. They are a diverse  group of students who deal with their own inner monsters: bullies, social anxiety and regular middle grade angst. But they are also very creative artists and writers, who realize that they have to work together to stop the mayhem they’ve released on their vulnerable town and Neha’s fantasy world, without the help of adults. Court is the problem-solver. There are other memorable characters — both human and magical — who contribute to the story.

The plot is dangerous and the tension palpable. Eli’s writer brain knows his monsters,  especially Howler, who is murderous and has an evil glint in his eye. And there is Lichenthrope, who is designed to lie flat and undetectable in the forest until someone walks over top of him. Eli also knows exactly when the monsters will attack, so he has to act fast. But Neha’s adorable and mischievous Creeps are invading the town and must be located and protected from the monsters. The friends divvy up groups of Creeps and sneak them into their homes for protection. More mayhem! Time’s running out on their mission is to restore order.

Cannon’s story ending allows readers to imagine what happens next.  OR, it may leave the door open for a sequel. I’ll let readers make their own conclusions.

Sarah Cannon, author of Oddity and Twist, has lived all over the US, but right now she calls Indiana home. She has a husband, three kids, and a misquided dog. Sarah hold a BS in education. She’s a nerdy knitting gardener who drinks a lot of coffee and eats a lot of raspberries. She is probably human. Visit Cannon at her website. There is a study guide for the classroom.

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.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.