Liza must venture Below to rescue her little brother's soul, stolen by evil, power-hungry spider people called spindlers, in this refreshingly creepy, intricately woven tale.
A concealed hole in the wall behind a narrow bookcase in her family's basement is her entry, and amid loud scratching noises, Liza trips, falling down into the darkness Below. Mirabella, a giant rat who wears newspaper for a skirt, becomes her trusted guide to the spindlers' nests, which Liza must reach before the Feast of the Souls. But things are never what they seem in Oliver's vividly imagined world....An arduous, dangerous and fantastical journey ensues. As in the author's first terrific book for middle-grade readers, Liesl & Po (2011), there is a smorgasbord of literary references, including strong echoes of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It is laced with humor and engaging wordplay, as well as riddles and death-defying tests and enchantments. Wholly original creatures populate the tale, some reassuring and wise, like the nocturni and lumer-lumpen, others wonderfully macabre (and ferocious), like the queen of the spindlers and the shape-shifting scawgs. In the course of her episodic quest, Liza discovers she is resourceful and brave; she sees things differently than before.
Richly detailed, at times poetic, ultimately moving; a book to be puzzled over, enjoyed and, ideally, read aloud.
(Final illustrations not seen.)
Two veteran storytellers give one of mythology’s greatest warriors his due in a narrative rich in drama, tragedy, intense emotion and heroic feats of arms.
Thoroughly recast from an award-winning audio version (2004; included with the hardcover edition), this companion to the authors’ Adventures of Odysseus (illustrated by Christina Balit, 2006) retells the classic tale of Achilles’ meteoric career in staccato, muscular prose. “He was fed on the marrow of bears to make him strong, the guts of lions to make him fierce, and the milk of deer to make him swift.” Stylized border and panel paintings of gods and mortals seen in profile or posed groups are reminiscent of figures on ancient Greek vases. The profound attachment between Achilles and Patroclus (begun during the former’s five-year stint disguised as a woman and ending with their ashes mingled in the same funerary urn) forms the emotional centerpiece of the tale. Otherwise, veiled behind lines like “they took their delight of one another,” the sex among the large cast of gods and mortals is less explicit than the battle action before and within Troy’s walls. Echoes of Homeric language can be found in references to Zeus, the “Cloud Compeller,” “ox-eyed Hera” and the like. Despite its particular focus on Achilles, this compelling narrative delivers a reasonably complete picture of the Trojan War’s causes, course and violent end.
Epic in deed and scope and a-bustle with larger-than-life characters, this retelling of the Iliad will rivet both readers and listening audiences.
When Finn falls out of a tree and into the life of Naomi, he brings more than a touch of Ireland’s magic.
Naomi and her friend, Lizzie Scatterding, are both foster children living in the quiet town of Blackbird Tree. Life takes on a mysterious air when Finn boy and the Dangle Doodle man show up in a town that's already inhabited by such characters as Witch Wiggins and Crazy Cora. Naomi carries the terrible scars, internal and on her arm, of her father’s death and a dog’s attack. Her guardian parents each share their hearts; Nula remembers privation and her estranged family in Ireland, and Joe teaches Naomi to dream and fly high into the clouds for inner peace. In a parallel story across the sea in Ireland, two women talk of times past, lost families and setting things right. Creech, a Newbery Award–winning author, deftly weaves a multi-layered story in which past and present thread their way around Naomi the romantic and Lizzie the singer. With a Finn boy for each generation, there’s joy in the air and in the reading.
An enchanting tale to treasure in which ordinary folk find fairies’ gold, run across crooked bridges and mend their broken hearts.
Space cat Lt. Binky has been tapped for a new assignment: recruit trainer!
Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel (F.U.R.S.T.) and Captain Gracie are pleased to announce that Lt. Binky is about to get his first recruit to train. Since Binky had to train himself, he knows the importance of a mentor and a well-thought-out training plan. Those aliens (read: flies) won’t fight themselves! But when the recruit arrives… Horrors! There’s a new diversity program at F.U.R.S.T., and Gordon, a dog, has been assigned to Binky. Binky decides to give it his all. As expected, Gordon falls short. Then Binky discovers the unthinkable: Gordon seems to be leaving coded messages in outer space (that’s outside, to humans) for the aliens in his… well, what flies like. He’s also disabling alien-zappers and stealing human technology. If they are to prove Gordon is a double agent, Gracie and Binky will need incontrovertible proof! Spires’ fourth Binky graphic adventure is as fresh and hysterical as the first. The watercolor graphic panels are as visually appealing as the narration is clever, offering up a little potty humor, a bit of over-the-top adventure-tale parody and a few nifty surprises. Great entertainment for readers big and little whether they are fans already or not.
A purrrfect mix of slapstick, deadpan and catpan.
(Graphic novel. 8-12)
One year after the events of Newbery Honor–winning Everything on a Waffle (2001), Primrose Squarp returns, no longer orphaned but just as determined to make everything turn out right.
Her parents back from their yearlong loss at sea, Primrose has turned her attentions to her real-estate–developer uncle Jack and the possibly burgeoning romance between him and restaurateur Miss Bowzer. She's also concerned about her former foster parents' new foster child, Ked, who becomes her first real peer-group friend and whom she badly wants Evie and Bert to adopt for good, for all their sakes. Further unsettling her is the threatened logging of the old-growth forest just outside of town. When Primrose isn't plotting, she and Ked desultorily work on a cookbook (working title: Just Throw Some Melted Butter on It and Call It a Day), recipes for which end each chapter. While this title lacks the single-minded focus of Primrose's earlier (mis)adventure, it has heaping helpings of Horvathian wit (Primrose practices dilating her pupils; "It makes you look innocent and doe-eyed," she explains) and wisdom ("Maybe we live in a universe where all you have control over is your own kindness," suggests Uncle Jack).
Ever respectful of the capacity of her audience to comprehend the big words and concepts she deals in, the author delivers a gothic tragicomedy that is both a worthy sequel and as able as Primrose to stand on its own
. (Fiction. 9-12)
In this British import, a girl grieving for her dead mother gives up talking when she becomes convinced that what she says doesn't matter.
Cally's father never mentions her mom, which seems to deny her existence. Then Cally begins to see her mother—a ghost or wishful imagining?—dressed in a red raincoat and sometimes accompanied by a very large dog that's assuredly not a ghost since he turns up independently at school, in the park and especially with a homeless man, Jed. Cally also meets Mrs. Cooper, a neighbor in their new apartment building who lovingly cares for her blind, nearly deaf 11-year-old son, Sam. Mrs. Cooper, Sam and a psychiatrist all reach out to Cally, each offering wise support, but it's Cally herself, perhaps with the quiet help of her mom, who finds a believable—if a bit miraculous—and highly satisfying resolution. Fifth-grader Cally's first-person voice effectively captures both her suffering and her bewilderment as friends and her father all fail to understand her pain. When she tells Sam she sometimes thinks her mother became a star after she died, he astutely asks, "Why would she go so far away?" giving Cally a comforting new way to think of her mother, much closer to her heart.
Ever so gently, this fine debut effort explores the power of human kindness as Cally and her father find effective ways to cope with their loss
. (Fiction. 8-12)
Mom said there was magic in the woods…she probably didn’t mean anything like this.
Ten-year-old city boy Rufus is staying at his grandmother's house on the edge of a forest for a few days without his parents. Grammy's idea of fun is prune juice and soap operas, so Rufus decides to explore the woods. He meets a girl named Penny, but she's as friendly as a rock. Her older sister, Aurora, tells Rufus Penny's friendlier than she seems, so he doesn't give up on her. When looking for her in the woods, Rufus finds a glowing necklace in a tree. After reading the word on the back, he turns into Bigfoot! Not only is he big, red and hairy, but he can also talk to animals. Sidney the flying squirrel helps him get home. There's danger in the forest as well as magic, and when Penny disappears, Rufus (and Sidney) use the totem to effect a rescue. Canadian author Torres’ first in a new series of graphic novels has magic, humor and just a hint of menace. Easy-reading text, all in speech bubbles, will appeal to a wide range of readers. Hicks’ bright and glossy cinematic panels are full of action; readers will almost smell the green of the trees. This one gets everything just right.
Be prepared for young Sasquatch fans roaring for more.
(Graphic fantasy. 6-11)
Two 14-year-old boys, one Afghan and one English, find friendship with each other and with two exceptional dogs.
Aman and his mother have fled the horrors of life under the Taliban for asylum in England, only to face deportation six years later. His best friend in school and on the soccer fields is Matt, an English boy spending the summer with his grandfather and his grandfather’s dog, Dog. Morpurgo tells the story through the voices of Matt, his grandfather and Aman. In the beginning, Matt convinces his grandfather to visit Aman, who is being held in Yarl’s Wood, a detention center. His grandfather continues the story, gently persuading Aman to recount what happened in Afghanistan and during the long, treacherous journey to England. The grandfather then organizes a demonstration to protest the deportations, receiving help from sympathetic ministers and an exploding volcano. The titular Shadow is a spaniel, a sniffer dog, trained to alert soldiers to roadside bombs, and she just about steals the story. The dog had bonded with Aman after being separated from her British army unit. Morpurgo has long championed the plight of children and animals in wartime and here ably succeeds in dramatizing the far-reaching repercussions of the decades-old war in Afghanistan.
Humanity triumphs over evil and bureaucracy in this heart-rending and heart-affirming story.
(postscript, background information on Yarl’s Wood and sniffer dogs)
Amber Brown fans will rejoice; against all odds, their favorite protagonist is back.
After Paula Danziger passed away in 2004, it looked like readers would never find out how things would work out for Amber as her mother faced remarriage and a move to a new house. Through the efforts of two of Danziger's author friends, Amber has returned, with her funny, often slightly ironic, first-person voice that perfectly captures the tribulations and triumphs of the middle-grade years. Assigned to create a personal budget for a million dollars, she sets aside $25,000 to provide for "anti-nose-picking therapy for Fredrich Allen," a classmate. He becomes less easy to mock when she gets to know him better, since it turns out her mother and fiancé Max are going to get married at the Allens' summer camp to save money, a plan Amber dreamed up. What's harder for Amber is trying to find comfortable middle ground between her father and her mother's wedding plans. She's trying not to take sides but sometimes finds herself caught between them, even in their mostly amicable split, a problem she good-naturedly deals with, setting a fine example for kids in the same position. Simple, often humorous illustrations completely capture the gentle spirit of the tale.
Fully faithful to the voice Danziger gave Amber Brown, this visit with an old friend will totally satisfy readers.
(afterword by Danziger's niece, "the real Amber Brown")
Through months of homelessness and her mother’s breakdown, sixth-grader Sugar Mae Cole and her puppy, Shush, demonstrate what it means to be sweet.
Newbery Honor winner Bauer (Hope Was Here, 2000) has created one of her strongest young women yet in the character of Sugar, writer of thank-you notes and poetry, dog-walker, parent-educator and trust-trainer. Her chronological first-person narration works, with notes, emails and poems to document the pain of dealing with an unreliable father, the difficulty of leaving a familiar home and beloved teacher, and the conflicted feelings of a child in a good foster-care situation. Sugar’s mother, Reba, has trusted her gambling husband too many times. Can Reba develop the strength to resist him? Luckily, this resilient child has always had the support of other adults: first her grandfather, King Cole; then Mr. B., the sixth-grade teacher who encourages her writing and stays in touch; and, finally, Lexie and Mac, experienced foster parents who provide a safe haven but know when to let go. Sugar’s voice is convincing, both as storyteller and young writer; her natural good humor shines through what could be a sad story indeed. Quirky supporting characters—both human and dog—add to its appeal.
Sugar, with her natural gift for rubbing down imperfections, will win readers’ hearts.
Sandler brings to life an extraordinary true adventure tale set on the treacherous Arctic terrain.
In September 1897, eight whaling vessels became icebound near Point Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in America, and 265 men faced starvation. Acting on orders from President McKinley, Secretary of the Treasury Lyman Gage sent Capt. Francis Tuttle and his ship, the Bear, on a rescue mission. He would take the Bear as far north as possible, put three officers ashore and send them over 1,500 miles overland to aid the men. Using a combination of dog-powered and reindeer-drawn sleds, herding 400 reindeer and living off the land along the way, the three-man rescue team, with immense help from indigenous people, succeeded in their journey through the Arctic winter, arriving 103 days after leaving the Bear. Remarkable photographs, many taken by one of the rescuing officers, grace just about every spread, and even the captions are fascinating. The narrative’s excitement is heightened by the words of the participants, drawn from their actual letters, diaries, journals and other personal reminiscences. Maps are well-drawn, documentation is meticulous, and the backmatter includes a section on what happened to the key players and a useful timeline.
Outstanding nonfiction writing that makes history come alive.
(source notes, bibliography, photography credits, index)
(Nonfiction. 10 & up)
Winning the lottery does not turn out as sixth-grader Hailee Richardson had imagined.
Yes, she does get the new bicycle and cellphone that were high on her list of needs, but she also gets sent to a different school, prestigious Magnolia Academy. New and nervous, Hailee becomes consumed with Facebook and is targeted by an older risk-taking classmate who threatens to get this previously good kid, who doesn’t even swear, into trouble. Soon she’s alienated a new friend and said something terrible to an old one. Dramatic and imaginative, Hailee is both quick-witted and quick to justify herself. In her first-person, present-tense narration, she promises to tell readers the truth, and she does, in her lights. But readers will see through this unreliable narrator, recognizing her jealous moments and her social insecurity. They may even be relieved by her father’s “intervention,” which curbs her cellphone addiction. Hailee’s love for the hard-to-control bougainvillea vines and the ever-changing swamp maple outside her Florida window reflect her own issues. Her parents’ sensible approach to their newly acquired wealth contrasts nicely with their daughter’s exaggerated dreams. Haworth effectively captures the self-consciousness, self-absorption and limited experience of a preteen, and the seductive charms of Facebook friendships for that age.
Realistic, modern and still familiar, this is a middle school story both children and their parents should read.
Lovable Zita returns in a charmingly dashing interplanetary adventure to save yet another doomed planet from impending peril.
After saving both a planet and her best friend, Zita has achieved renown as an intergalactic hero and is greeted with adulation wherever she travels. In the midst of her fame, a lone, archaic Imprint-o-Tron—a robot that was built for companionship but took its "imprinting" too far—spies a Zita poster and immediately takes on her likeness. The bot’s mimicry is so exact that it quickly becomes difficult to tell the real Zita from the impostor. A sudden turn of events leads to the real Zita making a felonious—although necessary—decision, instantly transforming her public image from that of hero to outlaw. Faced with saving another planet, the real and fake Zitas must find a middle ground and work together, redefining what it really means to be a hero when they set out to rescue the Lumponians from the cutely named but very deadly Star Hearts, villainous parasites capable of destroying entire planets. Hatke’s arrestingly vibrant art commands instant adoration of its reader. Zita’s moxie is positively contagious, and her adventures are un-put-downable. Readers would be hard-pressed to not find something to like in these tales; they’re a winning formula of eye-catching aesthetics and plot and creativity, adeptly executed.
Imaginative and utterly bewitching.
(Graphic science fiction. 9-12)
A warmhearted beginning to a new chapter-book series delights from the first few sentences.
“Lulu was famous for animals. Her famousness for animals was known throughout the whole neighborhood.” So it begins, revealing its bouncy language and its theme, illustrated by a cheery image of Lulu with bunnies at her feet, a parrot on her shoulder and a mouse in her hair. Lulu’s best friend is her cousin Mellie, who is famous for several things but most notably losing sweaters, pencils and everything else. Her teacher in Class Three is Mrs. Holiday, who endures the class guinea pig but does not think it needs animal companions, not even Lulu's dog. When the class goes to Tuesday swimming at the pool by the park, however, and Lulu finds a duck egg, which she takes back to class—that is not an animal, right? Well, not yet. What Lulu and Mellie do to protect the egg, get through class and not outrage Mrs. Holiday is told so simply and rhythmically, and so true to the girls’ perfectly-logical-for-third-graders’ thinking, that it will beguile young readers completely. The inclusion of the kid who always gets a bloody nose and a math lesson on perimeter only adds to the verisimilitude and the fun. Lulu’s classroom is full of children of all colors, and Lulu and Mellie are the color of strong tea with cream, judging from the cover.
Like her main character, Trinket, Thomas clearly loves storytelling, and she has a real talent for it, too.
Seven interlinked episodes follow a brief exposition. The distinctness of these episodes keeps the text from seeming overlong, particularly since the smooth flow and intriguing elements will easily capture readers’ interest. Unusual characters (a gypsy princess, fairy queen and ghostly highwayman, among others) add excitement and suspense, while the overarching tale, which effectively connects the disparate characters and individual events, features a quest of sorts. Eleven-year-old Trinket recently lost her mother to a fever. Her father, a wandering bard, abandoned the family five years ago when he failed to return as promised from a storytelling sojourn. With no one to care for her, Trinket sets out with a friend to discover what became of her father—and to collect some stories to tell. Hardships abound, and the two often go hungry, but they persevere in their search. Readers familiar with Celtic folklore will recognize the outlines of some of the sections. But even those for whom selkies and banshees are brand-new will appreciate the clever way Thomas weaves together traditional elements and her fictional creations.
Though it’s filled with incident, emotion, magic and adventure, what stands out most is Trinket’s clear voice and loving heart, both of which will endear her to readers.
A teenage boy becomes a spy in Nazi-occupied Norway.
After the Germans invade his country in 1940, Espen goes from a life of school, Scouts and soccer games to delivering underground newspapers. Gradually, he advances to transporting secret documents via bicycle or skis and spying on Gestapo locations for the intelligence branch of the Resistance. Along the way, he navigates relationships with a beloved best friend who has joined the Nazis, his younger sister and peers who share his passion for opposition, as well as a budding romance with Solveig, who wears a red stocking hat signaling displeasure with the new regime. Newbery Honor winner Preus (Heart of a Samurai, 2010) infuses the story with the good-natured humor of a largely unified, peace-loving people trying to keep their sanity in a world gone awry. Based on a true story, the narrative is woven with lively enough daily historical detail to inspire older middle-grade readers to want to learn more about the Resistance movement and imitate Espen’s adventures. A selectively omniscient narrator moves from sister Ingrid’s diaries to the inner thoughts of Espen’s nemesis, Aksel. Preus also incorporates a Norse myth about Odin to shed light on what it means to be wise, the possibility of knowing too much and how to resist shadowing the mountain of hope.
A female Civil War soldier is brought alive for readers.
Though 19 years old, Frank Thompson is rejected the first time he tries to join the Union Army: He looks too young. Three months later, the conscriptors aren't so picky, and Frank signs on as a "nurse," a mostly untrained orderly who pulls injured soldiers off battlefields, holds them down during amputations and writes to their loved ones if they die. With his stamina, determination and genuinely caring nature, Frank excels, and he is soon given riskier duties: first, postmaster, responsible for carrying mail to the front lines; second, spy, where Frank proves a master at disguise. And no wonder: Frank is a woman. Sarah Edmonds, Canadian by birth, first passed for a boy to escape her abusive father and an arranged marriage; after the war, she became the only female to receive a soldiers' pension. Moss' moving first-person narration, based largely on Edmonds' own autobiography and other first-person documents, shows Frank gradually finding in her war comrades the close-knit and loving family she never had, while becoming increasingly valued for her courage and compassion. Moss convincingly but never gratuitously portrays the gore, horror and boredom of war.
An intimate look at a soldier's life from a compelling, historical perspective.
(author's note, thumbnail biographies, timeline, bibliography)
(Historical fiction. 12 & up)
Gathered by the United States children's poet laureate, 200 (mostly) lighthearted poems from the likes of Basho and Ben Franklin, Leadbelly, Jack Prelutsky and Joyce Sidman share space with eye-popping animal photographs.
A well-stirred mix of old and recent limericks, haiku, short lyrics, shaped poems and free verse, the poetry ranges far and wide. There are rib ticklers like Gelett Burgess’ “Purple Cow” and Laura E. Richards’ “Eletelephony” (the latter’s line “Howe’er it was, he got his trunk / Entangled in the telephunk” dated in these days of cellphones but still hilarious to read, especially aloud). Others are more serious, such as Tracie Vaughn Zimmer’s graceful tribute to an indoor centipede—“a ballet of legs / gliding / skating / skimming / across the stage of white porcelain”—and David McCord’s elegiac “Cocoon.” All are placed on or next to page after page of riveting wildlife portraits (with discreet identifying labels), from a ground-level view of a towering elephant to a rare shot of a butterfly perched atop a turtle. Other standouts include a dramatic spray of white egret plumage against a black background and a precipitous bug’s-eye look down a bullfrog’s throat. Lewis adds advice for budding animal poets to the excellent bibliography and multiple indexes at the end.
A spectacular collection—“And,” the editor notes with remarkable understatement, “the pictures are pretty nice too!” (Poetry. 7-12)
The author of A Tale Dark and Grimm (2010) starts over—sending young Jack and Jill on a fresh quest for self-knowledge through trials and incidents drawn (stolen, according to the author) from a diverse array of European folk and fairy tales.
Foolishly pledging their lives to finding the long-lost Seeing Glass, cousins Jack and Jill, with a three-legged talking frog to serve as the now-requisite comical animal sidekick, set out from the kingdom of Märchen. They climb a beanstalk, visit a goblin market and descend into a fire-belching salamander’s lair (and then down its gullet). In a chamber of bones (“It gave new meaning to the term rib vaulting”), they turn the tables on a trio of tricksy child eaters. Injecting authorial warnings and commentary as he goes, Gidwitz ensures that each adventure involves at least severe embarrassment or, more commonly, sudden death, along with smacking great washes of gore, vomit and (where appropriate) stomach acid. Following hard tests of wit and courage, the two adventurers, successful in both ostensible and real quests, return to tell their tales to rapt children (including one named “Hans Christian,” and another “Joseph,” or “J.J.”) and even, in the end, mend relations with their formerly self-absorbed parents.
Not so much a set of retellings as a creative romp through traditional and tradition-based story-scapes, compulsively readable and just as read-out-loudable.
This handsome, engaging study of African-American history brings to light many intriguing and tragically underreported stories.
This is a comprehensive approach to African-American history, beginning with accounts of black explorers before the settlement of North America. The straightforward narrative includes major historical events but places emphasis on unusual aspects. For example, during the segment on the American Revolution, there is good discussion about those who fought for both the Patriots and the Loyalists. Another section of distinction is the period following the Civil War and Reconstruction, including blacks in the West and an intriguing look at the differing views of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. The societal changes brought on by World War II and the civil rights movement receive their due. Little-known exchanges between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are the kinds of detail that lift this narrative above the standard history text. Not surprisingly, the story concludes with the election of President Barack Obama and the challenges facing the first black president. This is a well-researched, readable overview with an attractive layout that will engage young readers. There are few pages that are not accompanied by an interesting sidebar or image, many archival.
From attractive page design to an afterword that encourages readers to search for their own history, there has been much attention to detail in this handsome volume.
(notes, bibliography, art credits, index)
(Nonfiction. 10 & up)
A heartwarming friendship tale—played out amid carpets of chittering insects, torture both corporal and psychological, the odd bit of cannibalism and like ghoulish delights.
Being practically perfect in every way and someone who “never walked anywhere without extreme purpose,” 12-year-old Victoria resolutely sets about investigating the sudden disappearance of her scruffy classmate and longtime rehabilitation project Lawrence. After troubling encounters with several abruptly strange and wolfish adults in town, including her own parents, she finds herself borne into the titular Home by a swarm of 10-legged roachlike creatures. This abduction quickly leads to the discovery that it’s not an orphanage but a reform school. There, for generations, local children have had qualities deemed undesirable beaten or frightened out of them by sweet-looking, viciously psychotic magician/headmistress/monster bug Mrs. Cavendish. Victoria is challenged by a full array of terror-tale tropes, from disoriented feelings that things are “not quite right” and “[s]harp, invisible sensations, like reaching fingers” to dark passageways lined with rustling roaches and breakfast casseroles with chunks of…meat.
A thoroughgoing ickfest, elevated by vulnerable but resilient young characters and capped by a righteously ominous closing twist.
(Horror fantasy. 11-13)