The Monster in the Lake by Louie Stowell

The Monster in the Lake, Vol. 2

Louie Stowell, Author

Davide Ortu, Illustrator

Walker Books US, Fiction, Feb. 8, 2022

Pages: 197

Suitable for ages: 7-9

Themes: Wizards, Spells, Libraries, Dragons, Magical creatures, Evil curses, Diversity

Opening: “In the Book Wood beneath the library, Kit Spencer was practicing spells. She was a stock girl, with red hair, pale skin, and more mud than you’d usually see on a person who wasn’t a professional pig wrestler…Her goal was to raise the fireball above her head, the lower it to the ground. Faith was guiding her through the spell.” 

Book Jacket Synopsis

Kit Spencer may be the youngest wizard ever, but she sure doesn’t feel like the best wizard. Her magic keeps going wrong, and other weird stuff is happening: talking animals, exploding fireballs, and a very strange new arrival in the local park pond.

She sets off with her two best friends, Alita and Josh and Faith the librarian to investigate with wild magic that’s causing so much commotion. Joining them is a half dragon, half dog named Dogon who breathes fire and loves to be petted. But something is effecting Dogon too. 

Their journey takes them to Scotland, where they meet a loch-full of cranky mermaids, but the danger is greater than they imagined. Will they be able to set things right before the wild and dangerous magic spreads further?

Why I like The Monster in the Lake:

What fun it is introducing this wizarding series to emerging readers who aren’t ready for Harry Potter and other MG fantasy books. In the Monster in the Lake, (Book 2), Louie Stowell creates an exciting and appealing adventure-packed story with magical creatures, diverse characters, and an engaging and suspenseful plot with unexpected twists. The storytelling is straightforward and the pacing is fast and humorous. 

The three diverse friends are lovable characters, but have very different personalities. Kit is a spirited character who is reckless and makes a lot of mistakes. She’d rather play outdoors than read a book. Josh and Alita aren’t wizards, but they both have their own unique talents and are smart, and avid readers. Josh is always taking notes and keeping things straight. This book begins with a letter he writes to his “future self,” which gives a readers a a peek into the first book, A Dragon in the Library. Alita is good at organizing and has a special way with animals. An unlikely group of friends, they do support each other and work well together. Faith, the wizard librarian, is believable and grounds the story. There are many laughable moments. 

I really like this charming and humorous chapter book series. There is a quiz at the end of the book that can be used to launch a discussion about the story. There is a third book in the works and the author leaves room for adventure and Kit’s character growth as she slowly learns to control her magic. I think Kit’s going to be an amazing wizard. This is the perfect summer adventure for young readers looking to escape into a world of magic, libraries, spells, a dragon-dog, and an unseen ancient evil presence trying to regain it’s power!

David Ortu’s pen and ink illustrations are playful. They capture the characters personalities, their reactions to stepping into the pages of a book to transport themselves to far off places, and their encounters with magical creatures. Ortu shares just enough art to spark readers imaginations! 

Louie Stowell started her career writing carefully researched books about space, ancient Egypt, politics and science, but eventually lapsed into making things up. She likes writing about dragons, wizards, vampires, fairies, monsters and parallel worlds. Stowell lives in London with her wife, Karen; her dog, Buffy; and a creepy puppet that is probably cursed. Visit Stowell 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.

*Review copy provided by Walker Books US in exchange for a review. 

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Louisiana’s Way Home

Kate DiCamillo, Author

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Oct. 2, 2018

Pages: 240

Suitable for Ages: 10-12

Themes: Grandmother, Curses, Abandonment, Forgiveness, Friendship, Humor, Hope

Synopsis:

When Louisiana Elefante’s overbearing granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave their Florida home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. Granny has told Louisiana about the family curse and how it has been passed down through generations of her family.

But this time, things are different. Granny never intends for them to return and says they have a “date with destiny.” Separated from her cat and best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. Once they cross the line into Georgia, Granny isn’t feeling well and Louisiana has to drive the car, with a minor mishap. With Granny howling in the back seat about her teeth, Louisiana is desperate  to find a dentist and takes an exit to Richford, Georgia.

After Granny’s teeth are all removed, Louisiana finds a place for Granny to recuperate. She is feverish and can’t eat. Louisiana finagles a room at a motel called the Good Night, Sleep Tight. While Granny heals, Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of this small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy (Burke) with a crow on his shoulder. One day, Granny deserts Louisiana and drives out of her life. She leaves behind a letter that explains difficult truths about Louisiana’s life, making her wonder, “Who am I?” She worries that she is destined only for good-byes, but she is hopeful that maybe this town can break that curse.

Why I like this book:

Fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale, will be thrilled with her latest novel about Louisiana Elfante’s story. It is gripping and haunting, heartbreaking and humorous. The plot is intriguing, especially the mystery about the terrible family curse. Readers will get to know Louisiana in a gentle and tender way. They will learn about her secrets and of her abandonment. Where there is pain, there is an opportunity for Louisiana to grow and find love. She is a resilient and spunky character worth getting to know and love.

I like DiCamillo’s first person narrative. Louisiana’s voice is strong and determined. She begins the first chapter with “I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatever happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? They will know.” It was a joy to experience the story narrative through Louisiana’s vulnerable and wise character.

DiCamillo is a gifted storyteller who challenges readers with big questions about what is home, family, forgiveness and belonging. There is so much to love about Louisiana’s story. It’s a winner! You can visit DiCamillo at her website.

Kate DiCamillo is the author of many books for young readers. Her books have been awarded the Newbery Medal (Flora & Ulysses in 2014 and The Tale of Despereaux in 2004); the Newbery Honor (Because of Winn-Dixie, 2001), the Boston Globe Horn Book Award (The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, 2006), and the Theodor Geisel Medal and honor (Bink and Gollie, co-author Alison McGhee, 2011; Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride, 2007). She is a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Emerita, appointed by the Library of Congress.

Greg Pattridge hosts for 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.

*Advanced reading copy provided by publisher.