Like most avid readers, there are a handful of books from childhood that I became completely lost inside. I still love Francis Hodgson Burnett’s classic The Secret Garden, and reading it always brings me right back to my childhood, as well as that lonely old mansion in the English countryside. Megan Shepherd’s debut novel The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is sure to spark this same feeling in readers young and old. A blend of history and fantasy, it sucks readers into another world filled with mysterious characters and magical creatures.
Emmaline is one of many at the makeshift hospital for children with tuberculosis, but she is the only one able to see the winged horses in the mirrors of the once great house. Against the nuns’ strict orders, she sneaks out to play in the walled garden whenever she can. One morning, she discovers a horse from the mirror world hidden there. The horse, Foxfire, has a broken wing, which prevents him from returning to his own world. Letters from The Horse Lord begin to appear in the garden’s ancient sundial, and explain that Foxfire isn’t just wounded, but is being hunted by a sinister Black Horse. This creature hunts at night and is repelled by colorful objects. In order to save her new friend, Emmaline must find colorful objects to surround him. This is hard to do in the drab, gray hospital where all color seems to have been washed from the world.
This deeply moving story will have readers on the edge of their seats and will stay with them long after they have discovered all the secrets hidden in the pages.
Put on your jammies, grab your favorite stuffed animal and snuggle up with these new picture books perfect for bedtime.
In Bedtime for Yeti by Vin Vogel, Yeti must put on a brave face at bedtime when he discovers that his favorite stuffed animal is missing. Where could his sidekick be? And is he in danger? Will little Yeti be brave enough to save the day?
Various anthropomorphic animals perform familiar bedtime rituals in A Number Slumber by Suzanne Bloom. Then the alliterative text counts down from 10 (terribly tired tigers) to one (really weary wombat). The pastel illustrations are soft and soothing and evocative of dreaming.
Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton features a simple and repetitive story, with everything from the quietest yawns from the smallest sleepy mice to the mighty yawns of Great Bear. The real pleasure, though, comes from the illustrations. The predominantly pink, purple and blue color palette gets darker as the pages turn and bedtime approaches. The inside cover offers a brief astronomy lesson with its depiction of the solar system and a map of the constellations featuring Ursa Minor and Ursa Major — the namesakes for the story’s Little Bear and Great Bear.
Many readers will be surprised to learn that Raina Telgemeier is one of the most successful graphic novelists working today. Her comics may not be the stuff of spectacular blockbuster movie adaptations, but she has an uncanny eye for the subtleties of school age friendships, romantic relationships and the pain of braces (which hits especially close to home for me). She connects with readers — especially young ones — and this has led to her books outselling popular comics like The Walking Dead or whichever superhero book Marvel or DC are pushing this week. Telgemeier outpaces them with personal, self-contained stories about children and, with her new book Ghosts, Telgemeier has taken yet another step forward as a storyteller. Retaining her signature warmth and breezy humor, her subjects now include death, family illness and ghosts.
Ghosts follows a family who’s just moved to Bahía de la Luna, a seaside town whose ocean air is especially good for Maya, the youngest daughter who has cystic fibrosis. But the protagonist of the story is Catrina, Maya’s older teenage sister.
Maya is a classic child, silly and wise. She has a peace with the world that’s hard to retain when you become Catrina’s age. But Bahía de la Luna is not your average town, and the girls begin spotting ghosts and real-life spooky, scary skeletons. Maya has questions for the ghosts, but Catrina is terrified of them and the uncomfortable feelings they stir up about her sister’s health. Through many lessons, Catrina will learn that inviting ghosts into her life may be the healthiest thing she can do.
Ghosts is the perfect all-ages read, full of beautiful landscapes, cartoonish humor and wisdom. Leave it to Telgemeier to take the heaviest of subject matter and make it jovial.
Fall down the rabbit hole and into a topsy-turvy world of nonsense, beauty and adventure in Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore, a modern-day tribute to the classic Alice in Wonderland.
Alice Alexis Queensmeadow, about to turn 12 years old, has little to do aside from munching on tulips, watching the sun pour rainlight over her homeland of Ferenwood and practicing for the Surrender — an event where all Ferenwood children in their 12th year demonstrate their magical talents for the town elders and are subsequently assigned a special, secret task. Those things, and, of course, her missing father is on her mind. The last time anyone saw him, he was journeying outside of Ferenwood with nothing but the clothes on his back and a ruler in his pocket. Now two years later, his anguished family has all but given up on his return.
That is until Oliver, a not-so-friendly friend from Alice’s past, suddenly reappears with a proposition for her: If Alice will help him with his task, a dangerous mission that will lead them deep within the realm of Furthermore, he will tell her where her father is.
Desperate to be reunited with her father, Alice follows Oliver into Furthermore, a dangerous land full of rules, riddles and remarkable residents. The only question is: Will they survive it?
Tahereh Mafi, author of the teen romance trilogy Shatter Me, has once again delivered a unique reading experience. An interactive narrator, her beautiful, poetic writing makes for a touching, funny and truly satisfying read.
As summer winds down, we look forward to cooler weather, pumpkin-flavored everything and fall television premiers! If you’re like me and you need to read the book before you watch it on screen, here are 10 new series premiering this television season based on books.
Hulu’s Chance, based on the book by Kem Nunn, is a psychological thriller set in San Francisco about a psychiatrist, his female patient with multiple personality disorder and her homicide detective husband.
NBC’s Emerald City is a modern reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz series featuring 20-year-old Dorothy Gale and a K9 police dog.
Fox’s The Exorcist, based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty, follows a new family’s fight against demonic possession.
Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt is based on the true story of author Lynn Povich and 45 other women who sued Newsweek for sex discrimination in 1970.
Hulu’s The Handmaid's Tale is based on the classic dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood.
NBC’s Midnight, Texas is a supernatural drama based on the series by Charlaine Harris — also the author of the Sookie Stackhouse books which formed the basis for HBO’s True Blood.
NBC’s Powerless is a workplace comedy about an insurance company set in the DC Comics Universe.
CW’s Riverdale is a live-action teen drama based on the characters from Archie Comics, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is based on the children’s series by Lemony Snicket about three orphaned siblings.
ABC’s Still Star-Crossed, based on the teen novel by Melinda Taub, features the Montagues and Capulets in the aftermath of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic deaths.
Whether you’ve just been down the ocean or you’re anticipating your next trip, here are three seaside bedtime stories to share with your kids — especially if they’re fans of Ponyo.
The protagonist of The Storm can’t wait to go to the beach tomorrow with his parents! But one of Japan’s infamous monsoons threatens to douse their plans. Can his family weather the storm through the night or will their plans be rained out? Akiko Miyakoshi’s masterful charcoal illustrations depict this story of anticipation and overcoming fear with the same finesse as fellow illustrators Chris Van Allsburg and Daniel Miyares.
Maya by Mahak Jain is having trouble sleeping as well. Troubled by the dark when the power goes out, her mother comforts her with the story of the first banyan tree. Through this story and her dreamy imaginings, Maya learns how to transform her fears and overcome the sadness plaguing her from a recent loss. Elly MacKay’s ethereal cut-paper diorama illustrations, reminiscent of Lotte Reiniger’s Adventures of Prince Achmed, set the perfect tone in their depiction of Maya’s dream world.
Finally, be lulled to sleep by Anne Hunter’s onomatopoetic depiction of animals’ lullabies in Cricket Song. As the sun sets across the ocean, two worlds comingle as the diurnal creatures settle into their beds and nocturnal creatures start to wake. This understated story captures a sense of the earth’s orbit, starting in a forest in the Pacific Northwest and ending on an island in the South Seas. The interchange of the animals across the world makes for a tranquil procession as the two children in the book (and your own) drift off into slumberland.
It’s finally here! Harry Potter and the Cursed Child arrives today, and fans who have waited to learn more about their favorites will devour this script of the play based on an original new story by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. The Cursed Child is set 19 years after the seventh and final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Harry Potter is now (gulp!) 37 with his own family. Harry Potter first entered our lives 19 years ago with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and since 1997, all titles in the series have sold more than 450 million copies and been adapted into eight films.
Harry is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children. Harry and wife Ginny, accompanied by old friends Ron and Hermione, watch as their children set off from King’s Cross for a new term at Hogwarts. While Harry struggles with his past, his youngest son Albus must deal with the burden of being the child of a legend. He is unpopular and living under the shadow of his famous father, but Albus feels he has one true friend — Scorpius Malfoy, the son of his father’s arch enemy, Draco. But is Albus, as Harry suspects, being taken advantage of? And what about the persistently circulating rumor that Scorpius is really the child of the dark wizard, Lord Voldemort?
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is one play presented in two parts. The production has won five-star reviews from critics, with one describing it as "a game-changing production.” The play opened last night at the Palace Theatre in London’s West End, and Daily Telegraph critic Dominic Cavendish raved, "British theatre hasn't known anything like it for decades and I haven't seen anything directly comparable in all my reviewing days."
The Wild Robot is Peter Brown’s first work for middle-grade readers, and this notable picture book author and illustrator has given us a delightful story that is sure to become a classic.
A hurricane rages offshore, and somewhere at sea a vessel containing hundreds of identical crates sinks. Its cargo is mostly lost beneath the waves. A handful of crates are destroyed by waves smashing them into the rocky island cliff. One solitary crate is washed up onto the cliff’s edge so forcefully it breaks apart, and miraculously the robot inside is unharmed.
A curious gang of sea otters activates the ROZZUM unit 7134, and a robot called Roz wakes for the first time to finds herself marooned on an island.
Now, Roz must struggle to survive in this wild place. Unsurprisingly, the animals are terrified of this strange monster in their midst. They avoid her and attack her until she hides away. She certainly isn’t programmed for survival, but she is programmed to learn. Disguised as a rock, Roz observes the world around her. She sits patiently and watches tadpoles turning to frogs, mushrooms magically appearing, foxes hunting hares, ocean waves crashing against the coast. She begins to learn the languages of the creatures on the island.
By accident, Roz finds herself caring for a tiny gosling. As she becomes this little bird’s mother, she finds a place in the animal community. She must rely on older geese to help teach her how to take care of her gosling, and the beavers to build her a suitable house for the two of them. The animals on the island learn that Roz is kind and happy to help her neighbors, and a new kind of community is formed.
This peace can’t last though. Like the other animals, Roz is subject to the changing seasons. She has to find a way to endure conditions robots weren’t built for. Also, the manufacturers who created Roz are searching for every last robot they lost.
This wonderful book has everything readers could ask for — an action-packed plot as well as heartwarming characters readers won’t soon forget. While Brown does offer up a very accessible book for young readers, there are also some weighty themes such as motherhood, environmental concerns and the question of what it is to be human, making it a great book for families to share.
If you enjoy this title, be sure to check out Pax by Sara Pennypacker.
In Willow Hill, on the third night of the third month after a girl’s 13th birthday, she makes three wishes: an impossible wish, a wish she can make come true herself and the deepest wish of her secret heart in Lauren Myracle’s new children’s book Wishing Day.
Natasha Blok isn’t sure that she believes in magic (even though it’s rumored that the women in her family have more than most), but on her Wishing Day she dutifully hikes up Willow Hill to make her three wishes under the ancient willow tree. Should she wish for a kiss from the cutest boy in school or would that be a waste of a wish? Should she wish for her mother to come back? But if her mother’s dead, would she come back as a zombie? And if she isn’t dead, where has she been for the past eight years?
After Natasha makes her wishes, she begins to receive encouraging notes from an unknown person. She hopes they’re coming from her crush, Benton, but she fears it could be the fantastically weird and mysterious Bird Lady that she keeps running into.
It’s too bad Natasha doesn’t have anyone around to help her figure things out. Her father is disengaged, her aunts hold tightly to their secrets and her sisters and best friend don’t quite get her.
Natasha’s life is big on mystery and short on answers in this first book of a planned trilogy. The sequels will presumably focus on the Wishing Days of Natasha’s two younger sisters, who were all born one year apart, and reveal the mystery of their mother’s disappearance.
Readers who enjoy magical realism or books by Ingrid Law and Rebecca Stead will want to check this one out.