This engaging tale will challenge middle-grade readers who love mysteries and a good fright.

WITCHBONE

THE GOBLIN'S WINTER

This middle-grade debut novel stars a boy who inherits a house full of magical secrets from his uncle.

Enoch Wildwood, resident of the Gnomewood Home, has been murdered. This means that his sixth grader nephew, Danny Hallow, must drive with his guardians from Easton, Maryland, to Eddystone, New Hampshire, for the will reading. Danny’s father is deceased and his mother left, so his Keepers, Gloria Jean Grace, Silas Murray, and Ali Ramirez, protect him well. Often bullied at school, Danny’s one friend is the brown bat Max. Danny can communicate with Max. The boy also has a Just Know ability, a psychic talent that makes him sharper than most children. When Enoch’s will reveals that Danny is the sole inheritor of Gnomewood, the Keepers decide to settle in Eddystone despite the frigid weather and a rash of pet disappearances. Danny quickly makes two friends his age, Church McGee and Unwen Shaw. One day, they’re playing near a frozen creek when Unwen loses her shoe on the ice. As Danny tries to retrieve it, he sees a small robed creature snatch the shoe. Danny then falls through the ice only for Ezra Harker, a ragamuffin boy with a reputation for stealing, to rescue him. Ezra tells Danny the creature is a goblin, one of many terrorizing Eddystone. Is there a connection between Enoch’s death and these unsavory beings? Norton, who infuses his book with the small-town eeriness found in Stephen King’s work, delights in connecting the dots for well-read younger audiences. Danny’s family has an elaborate backstory, much of it explained by the Keepers, about clans with tremendous power who came through a portal. The source of Danny’s abilities—and their potentially dire consequences—rides the Chosen One trope while blending elements of fantasy, horror, and SF. But younger readers may be intimidated by the detailed plotting in this series starter. Scenes involving the children hunting goblins, away from the adults, work best because they advance the plot with suitable drama. Norton clearly wants to entertain a mixed-ages audience, yet the Keeper-heavy scenes slow the pace.

This engaging tale will challenge middle-grade readers who love mysteries and a good fright.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-71809-130-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 6, 2020

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards.

BEST NERDS FOREVER

Two young ghosts with unfinished business in this world join forces.

Eighth grade cyclist Finn McAllister decides to undertake a search for the supposedly crazed driver who forced him off the road and over a cliff to his death, but he spends far more of his time attending his own funeral, hovering near his grieving family and his four besties to overhear conversations, and floating through school—skipping the girls’ restroom because he still has some standards—and positively hammering on the realization that wasting any of life’s opportunities can only lead to regret. He discovers that he can still taste ice cream, smell farts, skip stones in the local lake, and use a TV remote. He can also share thoughts with both the living and with Isabella Rojas, the ghost of a classmate who vanished several months previously but is still hanging around, although she is not sure why. Eventually, in a massively contrived climax that leaves both souls ready to move on, Finn comes up with a scheme to produce proof of Isabella’s death to bring closure to her mother and also absolves his hit-and-run driver of fault (for a reason readers will see coming). In this outing, the usually dynamic duo throws together an aimless ramble around a set of flimsy mysteries that fail to coalesce. Finn reads as White; Isabella is cued as Latinx. Final illustrations not seen.

Likely to sell in spades but a slipshod, slapdash outing from co-authors who usually have higher standards. (Paranormal fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: May 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-50024-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/HMH Books

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2021

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