The Healing Star by A. Kidd

The Healing Star

A. Kidd, author

Quiet Storm Publishing, Fictioin, July 15,  2019

Pages: 240

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Stars, Adventure, Magic, Fantasy, Intergenerational relationship, Hope

Book Jacket Synopsis

Feisty fourth-grader Julia’s best friend in the entire universe is her grandmother. Julia and Grammu share secrets while cooking soup together, stay up late eating junk food and watching scary movies, and go stargazing on Blackberry Hill. They even wish on the same star every night.

But everything changes when Grammu catches the disappearing disease: little by little, she’s turning invisible. If Julia can catch a falling star, then her wish to save Grammu will come true. All Julia needs to do now is find the legendary ladder to the stars…

Why I like The Healing Star:

A. Kidd has written a magical story filled with heart and hope. Pause a moment to gaze at the beautiful fairy-tale cover.

What really stands out in The Healing Star is the endearing bond between Julia and her grandmother.  They stay up late watching scary movies and sharing secrets. They enjoy cooking together. They snuggle in bed together. Grammu shares wonderful stories about star-catching, healing star dust and the star constellations. They even pick their own star. Julia and Grammu are so close that they think of themselves as cosmic twins. So when Grammu falls ill, Julia has to catch a falling star to save he life.  Julia’s mother is skeptical, calling Grammu’s stories “old wives tales.”

When Julia fails to catch a falling star in Miller’s Field one special night, she and her loyal flatulent beagle, Pete, embark upon a dangerous journey to find the legendary ladder that leads to the stars. She discovers magical clouds, cloud people, and a cloud castle with a video game parlor. The story fantasy elements are fun but also teach Julia that not everyone is trustworthy.

This empathetic novel also dives into the uncertainty of life — disaapointment and loss — that many young people experience in their daily lives with loved ones.  It is a story about family and how we keep those memories in our hearts forever. The ending is very moving and will surprise readers. Julia will inspire readers to find  their own inner strengths during difficult times. This novel is a perfect read-aloud for younger kids and a read-alone for middle grade readers.     

A. Kidd is the middle child in a family of three girls. She started making up her own stories at age four. Because she couldn’t yet write, her mom wrote the stories down for her while she painted the pictures. Her first story was called Wagland and featured an island community with sea creatures that ate tuna fish sandwiches.

She has a B.S. in Written Communication with a minor in Language, Literature, and Writing from Eastern Michigan University and an MLIS with a specialization in children’s librarianship from Wayne State University. Her poetry has been published in literary magazines. A. Kidd lives with her husband and daughter in a suburb of Detroit, MI. The Healing Star is her debut novel. She often wishes on stars but hasn’t caught one yet. Connect with A. Kidd through her Facebook page.

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.

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

      

 

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Stellarlune by Shannon Messenger

Keeper of the Lost Cities: Stellarlune

Shannon Messenger, Author

Aladdin, Fiction, Nov. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages 12 and up

Pages: 738

Themes: Fantasy,  Magic, Adventure, Magical creatures, Friendship, Villains

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Sophie Foster changed the game. Now she’s facing impossible choices: when to act, when to trust, and when to let go.

Her friends are divided and scattered, and the Black Swan wants Sophie to focus on their projects. But her instincts are leading her somewhere else.

Stellarlune—and the mysterious Elysian—might be the key to everything. But finding truth in the Lost Cities always requires sacrifice. And as the Neverseen’s plans sharpen into terrifying focus, it appears that everyone has miscalculated. The Lost Cities’ greatest lie could destroy everything. And in the battle that follows, only one thing is certain: nothing will ever be the same.

In this stunning ninth book in the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Sophie and her friends discover the true meaning of power—and evil.

Why I like Stellarlune:

Many teens have been gifted Stellarlune over the holidays. so I am going to be careful and not spoil anything for readers.  First of all, Karin Paorocki’s cover is stunning!  Gorgeous and packed with action!  

Shannon Messenger is certainly setting the stage in Stellarlune for the fate of the Lost Cities. Dedicated fans will find  her story gripping, risky, and thought-provoking. This story ties up loose ends as it prepares readers for what is to come in her final novel next year. How will it all end, only Messenger knows. And yes Shannon, some readers will think your ending is “evil,” (your words, not mine). But that cliff hangar is spectacular and will leave readers with gaping mouths and playing out many scenarios in their minds until the final novel is released and all is revealed. 

Two standouts for me in this series are Messenger’s magnificent worldbuilding and her impressive cast of characters, who are growing up. Sophie is more mature, and has her abilities under control. But she is a teenager, so there are times she is impulsive, over zealous, headstrong and reckless as she carries the elven world on her shoulders. Needless to say there is a lot of normal teen drama in this book. Her friends Fitz, Biana, Dex, Linh, Tam, Marilla, Maruca, and Wylie are upset with her lack of team work. So Sophie’s working hard on finetuning her leadership skills, to keep Team Valliant strong and one step ahead of the Neverseen. And there is a little more romance in this story. Keefe–Sophie fans will be cheering. But Keefe flees to the Lost Cities to hide from his evil mother, Lady Gisela, who is conducting experiments on him and triggering dangerous abilities he can’t control.

The plot is action-packed. It picks up from the previous book, where Sophie and a few friends return from blowing up a hidden Neverseen storage facility. They retrieve valuable information, including the stolen “caches” of former Councillor Kenric and Fintan, an evil Pyrokinetic. Readers will know that there will be retaliation at some point in the story. But, lines are beginning to blur a bit between good and evil, when Sophie tries to understand hidden secrets from the ancient world the Council has hidden for a millennium. A meeting with the enemy only reinforces that. premise. Sophie and Team Valliant are beginning to question how the secrets have contributed to the instability they are all feeling in the Lost Cities. Sophie knows that CHANGE is inevitable and it will be fascinating how it plays out in the end.  I will not share anything more as I don’t want to spoil anything for readers.  

So while we read, Shannon is masterfully writing and plotting the finale!  Stellarlune is a thrilling read for her worldwide fans! If you are new to the Keeper of the Lost Cities series, do not start with this book! Start with the first volume and you can binge read the entire series.

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 her family — and 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.

Undercover Latina by Aya De Leon

Undercover Latina (The Factory)

Aya De León

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 11, 2022

Pages:

Suitable for ages: 10-14+

Themes: Latino, Culture, Racism, Privilege, Spies, Intelligence organization, Adventure, Diversity   

Opening paragraph: “A grown man is no match for a teenage girl on a skateboard. Even if he’s wearing sneakers and athletic gear. We called this guy El Rubio, because of his pale blond hair, and I was supposed to grab the briefcase from him. Then I’d skate the two blocks from the hotel lobby to where my parents were waiting with the car running, and we’d get away clean.”  

Publisher’s Synopsis:

A Latina teen spy goes undercover as a white girl to stop a white supremacist terrorist plot in a fast-paced middle-grade debut from a seasoned author of contemporary crime fiction.

In her debut for younger readers, Aya de León pits a teen spy against the ominous workings of a white nationalist. Fourteen-year-old Andréa Hernández-Baldoquín hails from a family of spies working for the Factory, an international organization dedicated to protecting people of color. Her parents have been working for the Factory for 20 years. For her first solo mission, Andréa straightens her hair and goes undercover as Andrea Burke, a white girl, to befriend the estranged son, Kyle Summer, of a dangerous white supremacist.

In addition to her Factory training, the assignment calls for a deep dive into the son’s interests—comic books and gaming—all while taking care not to speak Spanish and blow her family’s cover. But it’s hard to hide who you really are, especially when you develop a crush on your target’s Latino best friend. Can Andréa keep her head, her geek cred, and her code-switching on track to trap a terrorist? Smart, entertaining, and politically astute, this is fast-paced upper-middle-grade fare from an established author of heist and espionage novels for adults.

Why I like Undercover Latina:

Aya De León’s Undercover Latina is a gripping and well-executed spy story for both tweens teens. Readers will learn about racism, culture, and passing as white. The plot is timely, heart-stopping at times, packed with action and completely believable in today’s world.  Once I read the opening paragraph (above), I knew I wouldn’t put this book down until I finished it.

The worldbuilding is extraordinary, especially the fantasy gaming world the author invents — Triangulo — a fictional Latin American game. I thought it was a real game because of how she linke it to Comic Com, which gamers will love. De León creates strategies to play the game and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) characters with back stories that are culturally rich. Players use magic to free 17th century enslaved people in the Caribbean as they travel back and forth from past to present. Gamers will find this interesting.

The characters are racially and economically diverse. The Arizona high school Andréa attends is split between the typical “mean” white kids and those of color. Andréa passes for white and assumes the name ANN-drea. She’s befriended by the popular white girls, which causes a lot of inner conflict,  She has to listen to how the white girls label people of color, especially how Latinos .But she is an agent and  she has to keep quiet and cool-headed so she doesn’t blow her cover. She struggles with being true to herself and her culture. She finds her group with nerdy Kyle (white),Rámon (Latino), and Imani (Black) who are deep into the game of Triangulo. Imani is sent by the Factory to help ANN-drea learn the game. Undercover

Undercover Latino is a smart informational and well-written novel that is fast-paced and exciting to read. It is written for upper middle grade and young adult readers. Be sure to read the Author’s Note about her own family experiences as light-skinned Latinos who could and did pass for white. And she “hopes that her book will resonate with readers of all backgrounds and skin tones.” And I hope this novel turns into a series, because there are many more Factory assignments for Andréa.

Aya De León is the AfroLatins author of several suspense novels for adults as well as The Mystery Woman in Room Three, a free serialized online novel about two undocumented Dominican teens who uncover a kidnapping plot to stop the Green New Deal. She teaches creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley, and is active in movements for racial, gender, and climate justice . She lives in Northern Califronia.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Make sure you check out the many links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

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

 

 

 

 

Two Degrees by Alan Gratz

Two Degrees: A Planet in crisis. And time is running out.

Alan Gratz, Author

Scholastic Books, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Pages: 384

Themes: Climate change, Global warming, Survival, Adventure,  Science and nature 

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Fire. Ice. Flood. Three climate disasters.

Four kids fighting for their lives.

Akira is riding her horse in the California woods when a wildfire sparks–and grows scarily fast. How can she make it to safety when there are flames everywhere?

Owen and his best friend, George, are used to seeing polar bears on the snowy Canadian tundra. But when one bear gets way too close for comfort, do the boys have any chance of surviving?

Natalie hunkers down at home as a massive hurricane barrels toward Miami. When the floodwaters crash into her house, Natalie is dragged out into the storm–with nowhere to hide.

Akira, Owen, George, and Natalie are all swept up in the devastating effects of climate change. They are also connected in ways that will shock them–and could alter their destinies forever.

Bestselling author Alan Gratz is at the top of his game, shining a light on our increasingly urgent climate crisis while spinning an action-packed story that will keep readers hooked–and inspire them to take action.

What’s to like about Two Degrees:

I am an Alan Gratz fan and I feel he’s outdone himself with Two Degrees. It is a brilliant action-packed novel about the most important topic of this century — our rapidly changing climate. It is a breathtaking  read, but it will also have readers holding their breaths as they encounter many suspenseful moments and wonder what will happen next.  I felt a lot of energy in this novel that I am hopeful will energize readers to do something. 

This is storytelling at its finest.  It is a  necessary story with a harrowing and fast-paced plot that will keep readers engaged.  Just look at that gorgeous and engaging cover. It speaks to readers.  

Gratz did a remarkable amount of research in his thoughtfully penned novel. Although he focused his story in North America, he also addresses climate change worldwide. That’s why there are moments that are truly chilling as readers watch Akira, Natalie, Owen and George in survival mode outsmarting fires, rising waters and polar bears. Make sure you check out his author’s note at the end and learn about how he created each character. 

The story is written in three alternating stories, each ending with a big cliff hangar, which adds to the suspense. The characters are authentic and their engrossing stories are drawn from real-life situations that are particularly relevant with the recent wildfires in the west and fury of Hurricane Ian. All four characters are courageous, determined and committed.  And they are connected in ways they can hardly imagine in an over-the-top (crescendo) ending that will inspire and energize students to want to do something about climate change.  As Natalie realizes in the story “we can’t do it alone, it will take all of us doing something.”  

Gratz’s novel belongs in school libraries and would encourage interesting discussions in classrooms. Many readers will have already lived through wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and droughts. Climate change can be scary and it is important that readers are in touch with their feelings. Next week I’m reviewing All the Feelings Under the Sun: How to Deal with Climate Change by Leslie Davenport. It pairs beautifully with Two Degrees.    

Alan Gratz is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of many highly acclaimed books for young readers include Ground Zero, Refugee, Allies, Projekt 1065, and Prisoner B-3087.  Alan lives in North Carolina with his wife and daughter. Look for him online at his website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Make sure you check out the many links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Reviewed from a purchased copy.

 

 

Amanda In France: Fire in the Cathedral by Darlene Foster

Amanda in France: Fire in the Cathedral

Darlene Foster, Author

Central Avenue Publishing, Sep. 13, 2022

Suitable for ages: 9-12

Themes: France, Travel, Adventure, Mystery, Fire, Cathedral, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Amanda explores the exciting streets of Paris, the fabulous Palace of Versailles and the gardens of the painter Claude Monet, while being drawn into the mystery surrounding the destructive fire of Notre Dame cathedral.

Amanda is in love! With Paris – the city of love. She’s in awe of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, and Notre Dame Cathedral. While there, she gets to work as a volunteer and stay in a famous book store, along with her bestie, Leah, and Leah’s eccentric Aunt Jenny. A dream come true for a book lover like Amanda.

Except, while she’s at the Paris Opera House there is a bomb threat. Then the lights go out during their visit to the Louvre. Worst of all, a devastating fire blazes in Notre Dame. Why does a mysterious man, who claims to be a busker, writer and artist, show up every time something bad happens?

Join Amanda as she explores the exciting streets of Paris, the fabulous Palace of Versailles and the gardens of the painter Claude Monet, all the time looking for clues as to who would want to destroy such a beautiful, historic cathedral.

Why I like Amanda in France:

Foster has created another exciting and lively adventure story for young readers who enjoy traveling and solving a good mystery. Fans of the Amanda Travels series will quickly pour through the pages exploring the historic sites, munching on sweet macarons and baguettes, and falling in love with Paris along with Amanda.

Amanda is spirited and fun-loving character with a lot of smarts. Her inquisitive nature and keen radar about people draws the girls into a mystery which results in some dangerous situations. Leah is a little more sophisticated, but faithfully remains by Amanda’s side. She’s a nice balance for Amanda, especially when they run into some unsavory characters who may be involved with Notre Dame Cathedral fire. Amanda meets a lot of knew people and I appreciate the subtle message about not judging other people by how the speak or dress. 

I love the setting for this story, as I’ve always wanted to visit Paris. It’s been delightful to journey with Amanda to the Eiffel Tower, the cathedrals, the Paris opera House, Palace of Versailles, and the Louvre. Foster knows her audience and doesn’t talk-down to her young readers. The dialogue is as realistic as are they characters.

Bottom line, I believe that Foster’s Amanda Travel series is a wonderful way for teens to learn about other cultures and be inspired to do some traveling of their own some day.  Make sure you check out the discussion questions at the end of the book.

Amanda in France: Fire in the Cathedral is the ninth book in the Amanda Travels series: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask; Amanda in Spain: The Girl in the Painting; Amanda in England: The Missing Novel: Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone: Amanda on the Danube: The Sounds of Music;; Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind; Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action; and Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady.  Foster has written the books in such a manner that they cab be read in any order, but I recommend you start with the first book.

Darlene Foster: Growing up on a ranch near Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, Darlene Foster dreamt of writing, traveling the world, and meeting interesting people. She also believed in making her dreams come true. It’s no surprise she’s now the award-winning author of Amanda Travels, a children’s adventure series featuring a spunky twelve-year-old who loves to travel to unique places. Readers of all ages enjoy following Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another. When not traveling herself, Darlene divides her time between the west coast of Canada and the Costa Blanca, Spain with her husband and entertaining rescue dogs, Dot and Lia. Visit her at her website

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Make sure you check out the many links to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by the author in exchange for a fair review.

 
 

Unicorn Island: Beneath the Sand by Donna Galanti

Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath the Sand (Vol. 2)

Donna Galanti, Author

Bethany Stanecliffe, Illustrator

Andrews McMeel Publishing, Mar. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Unicorns, Mythical creatures, Mysterious Island, Adventure, Fantasy, Friendship

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Samantha’s (Sam) life couldn’t get much better. Since coming to Foggy Harbor to stay with her Uncle Mitch while her mother tours with an orchestra, she’s discovered a magical island full of unicorns and is learning how to protect them with her new friend, Tuck by her side. Foggy Harbor is finally starting to feel like home,

But just when everything seems perfect, a mysterious illness befalls the unicorn herd and threatens to rob them of their immortality. As Sam and Tuck race to help find a cure, she must confront a dark secret that her Uncle Mitch has spent her entire life trying to protect her from — a secret that links her own past to the future of the herd.

learns the truth behind Aunt Sylvie’s disappearance and her own connection to the island. With determination, courage, and fierce loyalty to one another—and to their code as unicorn protectors—the kids set out to protect the island’s secrecy and the unicorns’ very existence.

Why I like this book:

Donna Galanti’s Unicorn Island: Secret Beneath Sand is the second volume in this enchanting contemporary fantasy, which is packed with adventure, mystery and tension. It will captivate readers’ imaginations and lure them into a magical world of mythical beasts where they can learn to become “unicorn protectors.” 

The characters are diverse and believable. Samantha (Sam) is a curious and resilient protagonist who longs to become a unicorn protector. She befriends Tuck, the veterinarian’s son, is very resourceful during difficult situations and a supportive friend. Uncle Mitch is somewhat stern and elusive at first, but welcomes their help when he needs rescuing.  Sam can’t help but feel that Uncle Mitch is keeping secrets from her. 

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 second volume with four books to follow. And 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 about horns and hooves, secret rooms and passageways, invasive species, and healing salves. 

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.

 

Haven: A Small Cat’s Big Adventure by Megan Wagner Lloyd

Haven: A Small Cat’s Big Adventure

Megan Wagner Lloyd, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Aug. 16, 2022

Pages: 144

Suitable for ages: 8-12

Themes: Adventure, Cat, Fox, Animals, Love, Loss, Self-confidence, Friendship

Publisher’s Synopsis:

When her cherished human, Ma Millie falls ill, a timid housecat ventures into the wild to seek help in this adventure about love, loss, and finding the truest version of ourselves.

A warm, cozy lap. The toasty smell of baking bread. Tasty food served in a bright-blue bowl. These and other comforts make Haven’s life as an indoor pet heaven. All thanks to her beloved human and rescuer, Ma Millie. But when Ma Millie becomes too sick to care for her, the cat’s cozy life is turned upside down, and Haven decides she must seek out another human for help. Anything for Ma Millie! Her vow pulls her out of her safe nest into the shadowy forest and down unfamiliar and dangerous roads. When her first plan fails, Haven meets a wilderness-savvy fox who volunteers as an ally, and their perilous journey together brings some victories. But Haven finds herself pitted against creatures far wilder than she ever could be, testing her strength and spirit to their limits. Will her loyalty to Ma Millie—and her newfound confidence in herself—be enough to help Haven see the quest through to its conclusion? Can she stand up against the fierce predator that is tracking her every move?

Why I like Haven:

This is a sweet and heartfelt story for animal lovers about the unbreakable bond between Haven and Ma Millie, who finds the abandoned kitten on her front porch and nurses her back to health. Haven leads a pampered life with her human. When her beloved Ma Millie becomes ill, it’s Haven’s turn to get help.  

I like the unlikely pairing of a cat with a fox. It adds an element of danger to the plot. She meets a fox who could trick her and fill his belly, but he is intrigued by Haven’s courage and decides to help her.  After all his life is rather dull. “Sleep, wake. Hunt, eat. Repeat.” They could stick to the road and risk being hit, but venture into the wild forest where danger lurks around every corner  — especially a bobcat tracking the fox.    

Readers will be glued to Haven’s courageous adventure. Haven and the fox rely on and learn from each other. As her self-confidence grows, this pampered cat may have some tricks that will save the fox. This cat may be small, but she has a big heart.

This book is a perfect story for readers just beginning middle grade books — and for older reluctant readers. The chapters are very short, sometimes just one page. The third person narrative gives readers insight into Haven’s thoughts, as well as the other animals she meets along her journey in the wild forest. 

Megan Wagner Lloyd is the author of the graphic novel Allergic, as well as the picture books Finding WildFort-Building TimeBuilding Books, and Paper MiceMegan Wagner Lloyd lives with her family in the Washington, DC, area.

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.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review. 

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat

The Last Mapmaker

Christina Soontornvat, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Apr. 12, 2022

Pages: 368

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Fantasy, Mapmaking, Explorers, Ship, Adventure, Dragons

Book Jacket Synopsis:

In a fantasy adventure every bit as compelling and confident in its world building as her Newbery Honor Book A Wish in the Dark, Christina Soontornvat explores a young woman’s struggle to unburden herself of the past and chart her own destiny in a world of secrets. As assistant to Paiyoon, Mangkon’s most celebrated mapmaker, twelve-year-old Sai plays the part of a well-bred young lady with a glittering future. In reality, her father, Mud, is a conman.  In a kingdom where the status of one’s ancestors dictates their social position, the truth could ruin her.

Sai seizes the chance to join an expedition to chart the southern seas, but she isn’t the only one aboard with secrets. When Sai learns that the ship might be heading for the fabled Sunderlands—a land of dragons, dangers, and riches beyond imagining—she must weigh the cost of her dreams. Vivid, suspenseful, and thought-provoking, this tale of identity and integrity is as beautiful and intricate as the maps of old.

Why I like The Last Mapmaker:

Set in a Thai fantasy world, The Last Mapmaker is a suspenseful and thrilling high-seas adventure that will captivate readers, It will introduce them to some history of early colonizers exploring uncharted countries and staking their claims. And sometimes there are environmental consequences that are detrimental to the country.  

Soontornvat’s richly textured novel is original, fast-paced and tightly plotted with surprise twists, secrets, and betrayals that will keep readers engaged. Her prose is lyrical and visual. Readers will experience both the beauty and wrath of the sea, deal with sea sickness, smell the salty air, and enjoy the time in ports.

The diverse cast of characters are complex, messy and real. Sai is a determined and resourceful character who dreams big. She gets her chance when the aging mapmaker, Paiyoon, invites Sai to assist him on expedition to chart and discover the fabled Sunderlands for the Queen. His handwriting has become shaky and Sai can duplicate his writing without anyone knowing — their secret. He is somewhat fatherly toward Sai. The Captain of the ship is a female war hero, Anchalee Sangra, who is professional and aloof. Sai connects with the Captain’s friend Rian Prasomsap, who takes her under her wings, but she has her own agenda. Readers will enjoy seeing women in leadership roles.  Sai recognizes a crew member on the ship, Grebe, who could reveal some of her own secrets. And Sai’s relationship with with a colorful pickpocket/stowaway, Bo, could get her in a lot of trouble. 

When the Captain suddenly falls ill, the voyage takes a dramatic turn and the captain’s friend, Rian takes command of the ship. She convinces the crew to chart a course for the fabled Sunderlands, a place thought to be beseeched by dragons. 

This story deals with some serious themes written in a way that is relatable to middle grade students. It has a contemporary takeaway for readers about being true to yourself and charting the right course in your life when others disagree — much like navigating a course through an unmapped ocean.  It is easy to lose yourself in The Last Mapmaker. I highly recommend this story to those who enjoy fantasy, adventure and history. I will be reading this gem again!

Christina Soontornvat is the award-winning author of more than a dozen books for children of all ages, including A Wish in the Dark and All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys’ Soccer Team, both of which received Newberry Honors. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two young children and one old cat.

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.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.

The Christmas Pig by J. K. Rowling

The  Christmas Pig

J.K. Rowling, Author

Jim Field, Illustrator

Scholastic Inc., Fiction, Oct. 12, 2021

Suitable for ages: 8 and up

Themes: Boy, Stuffed toy, Family relationships, Magic, Adventure, Christmas

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Jack loves his childhood toy, Dur Pig. DP has always been there for him, through good and bad. Until one Christmas Eve, something terrible happens — DP is lost.

But Christmas Eve is a night for miracles and lost causes, a night when all things can come to life…even toys.

So Jack and the Christmas (DP’s irritating replacement) embark on a breathtaking journey through the magical Land of the Lost. With the help of a talking lunch box, a brave compass, and a winged thing called Hope, the set out to rescue the best friend Jack has ever known from the terrifying, toy-crunching Loser…

From one of the world’s greatest storytellers comes this heartwarming, page-turning adventure about one child’s love for his most treasured thing, and how far he will go to find it. With dazzling illustrations from renowned artist Jim Field, The Christmas Pig is destined to become a beloved classic for the whole family.

Why I like this book:

Another thrilling and magical adventure from J.K. Rowling about a six-year-old boy and his love for his  stuffed pig. The story is meant for middle grade readers, but it feels like a family story that can be read a few chapters at bedtime. Younger children will identify with the beloved stuffed pig and older readers will enjoy the magical journey into the Land of the Lost, where both good and bad is present. Jim Field’s full-page illustrations are lively and expressive and give readers a sense of the various lands Jack and the Christmas Pig travel through to search for DP.    

The story features a family with real life issues. Jack’s parents are splitting up and Jack and his mother are moving into a new home closer to his grandparents. He has to leave behind his friends and start a new school. His mother meets someone new, Brenden and his teenaged daughter Holly. When they become a blended family, tension erupts and that’s how DP is lost. 

There is a sweet relationship between Jack and DP. DP is a well-worn pig with a long history with Jack.  DP is no longer pink and puffy, but kind of limp and gray, with bent ears and buttons that replace his eyes. He’s been dropped in puddles, buried in sand on the beach, and lost all over the house. Due to all of his adventures, DP has a smell about him that Jack likes. And he’s always been there for Jack when he needs his tears wiped or is scared.  DP always seems to know exactly how Jack is feeling.

A master storyteller, Rowling’s world building is amazing and imaginative. Her plot is enchanting, dangerous, and humorous. It will keep readers fully engaged. There is a large cast of unusual, lovable, quirky and unforgettable characters. The ending is a heartwarming surprise. There are 58 chapters in the book, but they are short. Jim Field’s full-page illustrations are lively and expressive and give readers a sense of the various lands Jack and the Christmas Pig travel through to search for DP.

J.K. Rowling is the author of the seven Harry Potter books, which have sold over 500 million copies, been translated into over 80 languages, and made into eight blockbuster films. She has also written three short companion volumes for charity, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which later became the inspiration for a new series of films, also written by J. K. Rowling. She then continued Harry’s story as a grown-up in a stage play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, which she wrote with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany. In 2020, she returned to publishing for children with the fairy tale The Ickabog.  She’s received many awards and honors for her writing. She also supports a number of causes through her charitable trust, Volant, and is the founder of the children’s charity Lumos. She lives in Scotland with her family.

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.

 

 

Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan

Daughter of the Deep

Rick Riordan, Author

Disney – Hyperion, Fiction, Oct. 26, 2021

Suitable for ages: 10-14

Themes: Adventure, Underwater exploration, Marine sciences, High schools, Orphans, East Indian Americans

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Ana Dakkar is a freshman at Harding-Pencroft Academy, a five-year high school that graduates the best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators, and underwater explorers in the world. Ana’s parents died while on a scientific expedition two years ago, and the only family’s she’s got left is her older brother, Dev, also a student at HP. (And they’ve heard all the Harry Potter jokes already, so don’t go there.)

Ana’s freshman year culminates with the class’s weekend trial at sea, the details of which have been kept secret. She only hopes she has what it’ll take to succeed. All her worries are blown out of the water when, on the bus ride to the ship, Ana and her schoolmates witness a terrible tragedy that will change the trajectory of their lives.

But wait, there’s more. The professor accompanying them informs Ana that their rival school, Land Institute, and Harding-Pencroft have been fighting a cold war for a hundred and fifty years. Now that cold war has been turned up to a full broil, and the freshman are in danger of becoming fish food.

In a race against deadly enemies, Ana will make amazing friends and astounding discoveries about her heritage as she puts her leadership skills to the test for the first time.

What I love about this book: I am only going to leave bullet comments, because I know this book will be a popular gift for many teens over the holidays. So, no spoilers! 

Rick Riordan has captured my heart with Daughter of the Deep. The brilliantly crafted novel is action-packed, fast-paced, and full of unexpected surprises, right from the start. His storytelling is magnificent. And take a good look at that stunning book cover!

Daughter of the Deep is inspired by Jules Vern’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I believe fans of Vern will find this modern take a thrilling read with a new spin on Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus. Riordan takes world-building to another level. And the believer in me sees the potential for a  series. 

Riordan has created a cast of characters who are complicated, original and represent a wide range of ethnicities, faiths and abilities. Ana Dakkar is very relatable, believable and will capture reader’s hearts. She’s thrown into a situation she didn’t ask for. But her courage shines in the face of what she faces on an emotional level. She quickly gains the respect of the other students, and has a strong team of friends in Nelinha, Ester, Gem and many other HP students. And I love Jupiter the orangutan chef who communicates through sign language. He adds some humor and lightness to the story. First time I’ve seen attention given to menstrual cramps in novel.      

This high-stakes undersea adventure, re-imagines technologies so far advanced that readers will keep turning pages. STEM students will especially love this book — especially those who dream of about the world beneath the ocean and the advanced technologies of the future. But readers will also be challenged to think about the caution required in using them. Who do these advanced technologies belong to and how will they be used for the good of all mankind and nature? Which makes this a perfect discussion book.

Rick Riordan, dubbed “storyteller of the gods” by Publishers Weekly, is the author of five New York Times #1 best-selling middle grade series with millions of copies sold throughout the world: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Heroes of Olympus, and the Trials of Apollo, based on Greek and Roman mythology; the Kane Chronicles, based on ancient Egyptian mythology; and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, based on Norse mythology. Rick collaborated with illustrator John Rocco on two New York Times #1 best-selling collections of Greek myths for the whole family: Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods and Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes. He is also the publisher of an imprint at Disney Hyperion, Rick Riordan Presents, dedicated to finding other authors of highly entertaining fiction based on world cultures and mythologies, and a contributor to an RRP short story anthology, The Cursed Carnival and Other Calamities. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts, with his wife and two sons. He’s even known to go scuba diving on occasion. Rick’s Twitter handle is @RickRiordan.

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.