In the sleepy town of Farro, Iowa during the summer of 1963, four friends embark on an out-of-body expedition to save Carl, the town bully, from a mysterious–and dangerous–ghostly stranger. Carl’s been reading a strange book titled Subtle Travel and the Subtle Self. When Henry, the main character, grabs the book from Carl’s campsite and begins practicing the art of subtle travel, the story really begins to pick up. I was fascinated by the book from start to finish! It’s my favorite kind of science-fiction, the kind you wish was really true (and maybe it is?). In addition to the fantastical elements of subtle travel, there are also undertones of the time period. Race is an issue that is touched on a number of times in the book, and though I wish it had taken a bigger prominence in the story, the topics are highly relevant to our lives today. Read if you enjoy adventure stories with elements of science-fiction, especially when they are about four best friends (a set of twins and their besties) and how they save their families (bullies included) from the forces of selfishness and fear.
If you’ve ever felt alone, or felt like nobody wants to see or hear the real you, you’ll have much in common with the two main characters of Nikki Loftin’s lovely coming-of-age tale Wish Girl. The story revolves around Peter Stone, the quiet boy who feels like an outcast in his own very loud, very stressed-out family. It sometimes feels that only his baby sister Carlie understands him (fittingly, she calls him “Peep”). His problems seem big and insurmountable–violence follows him everywhere, from the schoolyard to the streets to his own house; Peter is a walking target for bullies. His family is going through its own turmoil, compounded by Peter’s dad not having a job, and he and his problems only seem to make matters worse. Wouldn’t it be better, he wonders, to just disappear? When he stumbles upon a girl in a mysterious valley who has big problems, too, they befriend each other. Together, they learn about art, friendship, and the value of really, really big wishes. The book takes an unflinching look at bullying in its varied forms, and also at the mind of a young woman who has been given a probable death sentence in the form of cancer. Luckily, the magic of the valley takes over, and its presence as a character is the perfect balance to what could be a very dark story. I can guarantee that after reading this book, you’ll want to experience that valley, too.
This graphic novel is a very moving portrayal of a child’s perspective on the Holocaust that ripped through Nazi-controlled Europe in the early 1940s. This tale centers on a grandmother and her granddaughter. The granddaughter hears her grandmother crying in the night and goes in to comfort her. They talk to each other about their dreams, and the grandmother tells the story of her childhood in France.
At the time, France was under Nazi control. While this book is written for children and is told from a child’s perspective, there are moments that will certainly require some discussion with an adult. There is a very brief (not even one page) discussion over a boy who is made to “prove” that he is Jewish, but it is not at all graphic. The tale of a child who goes into hiding in the countryside is told with tenderness–the story is never overtly scary, but there are some disturbing moments and times that a reader may get emotional.
Some parents may be unsure over whether their child is “ready” to read this type of material, and while the subject matter is tragic, there are also moments of light and joy throughout the novel. The love between the grandmother and granddaughter is palpable, and the story does have happy moments. The truth is that children of all ages were (and are still) forced to live under deplorable conditions all over the world. Material like this may help children understand and relate to their peers (and their grandparents) in a whole new way.
The Imaginary reminds me of a good old Roald Dahl tale: imaginary friends, real villains, and the merging of two worlds. Amanda is a “real” girl in the sense that you and I understand. Her best friend’s name is Rudger (not Roger!) and he is invisible to everyone except Amanda. Amanda’s imagination is so vivid that she’s able to create the most wonderful adventures for them. They have a great deal of fun until something happens to Amanda and Rudger begins to Fade. Rudger is saved by a sly cat named Zinzan who brings him to a place where imaginaries wait for their next child. But, Rudger doesn’t want anyone but Amanda. And so the tale continues with a great deal of adventure, mystery, and imagination. I loved the ending–bittersweet but perfect. Recommended for kids who enjoy books by Roald Dahl and Edward Eager, or those who love to use their imaginations!
What do animals at the Statford Zoo do at night? Check this book out of the library to see their after-hours production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth up-close and personal. With a suitable amount of death and gore (and lots and lots of ketchup!), this version of the Bard’s classic is fresh and engaging. Macbeth is played by a lion who eats his way to the top, and the rest of the cast is filled out by a host of other animals, including a stork Macduff, a hyena Banksy (you’ll remember him as Banquo), and an adorable owl king. Though the ending has been changed to a happy one, the main plot points are all there, from the three weird sisters to the spots on Lady Macbeth (a jaguar) that just won’t come out. In short, it’s an entertaining introduction to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and recommended for kids who enjoy graphic novels, suspense, and animals.
Title: The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents: Macbeth
Author: Ian Lendler, Illustrator: Zack Giallongo
Favorite quote: “Is this silverware I see before me?”
This enchanting story begins within the whimsical walls of Castle Glower, a magical castle that is home to the king, queen and their four children. The castle has the power to create walls, rooms, and stairways wherever and whenever it pleases and is particularly fond of Princess Celie, the youngest of the Glower children. All is well at the castle until Celie’s parents leave by coach to attend her brother’s graduation from the school of wizardry. Along the way the coach is ambushed, and the King, Queen, and Bran disappear without a trace. The children soon learn of an evil plot to overtake the castle and work feverishly to protect themselves and their beloved home. Castle Glower has a will of its own and does what it can to help Celie and her siblings. The story is a great adventure filled with humor, intrigue and mystery and one I highly recommend. For boys and girls ages 9-12.
Heap House is a strange, strange book…and I loved every bit of it! London, 1875. Clod Iremonger lives in Heap House with his large family on the outskirts of London. Naturally, Heap House sits among the Heaps – pile upon pile of discarded items in which people have been known to disappear. Outside the house, neglected items deteriorate while inside, items are treated with the utmost respect. You see, each new family member is given a Birth Object: an item chosen specifically for that person by the family matriarch. Birth Objects must be kept with their owners and protected at all times.
Clod is odd, even for an Iremonger, for Birth Objects speak to him, whispering names and sometimes phrases. Yet even Clod does not know why Birth Objects exist; only that it is family tradition. When a new servant, Lucy Pennant, arrives and objects start acting strangely, Clod begins to uncover some of the mystery of his family’s history. The large, looming house and its inhabitants hold many secrets – only some of which are revealed to the reader, ultimately leaving one longing for the next installment in The Iremonger Trilogy. Carey’s black-and-white Edward Gorey-esque illustrations enhance the book’s creepiness factor and give readers a distinct visual reference for the book’s numerous characters.
Notes: This is definitely a book for sophisticated readers. Carey’s attempt to mimic the writing style of the time period in which the book is set can at times be confusing (so many commas!). Additionally, some mild language use and romantic situations might not be appropriate for younger readers. All that being said, this book is sure to delight upper middle-grade and young teen readers with a penchant for the peculiar!