Noted film director (Home Alone, Harry Potter) Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini serve up an action-packed adventure in House of Secrets. The Walker children, Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor, have enjoyed a privileged childhood, but following an “incident” at the hospital where their father worked, the family has fallen on challenging times. Forced to relocate to San Francisco, the family happens upon a house that seems too good to be true. A grand old Victorian once owned by a famous author, the Kristoff House is offered at a fraction of its value. Enchanted, the Walkers quickly take up residence – but not for long.
The day of the move, a mysterious neighbor visits the household. Dahlia, the daughter of author Denver Kristoff, the original owner, seems friendly and harmless enough, but her exterior conceals the truly villainous nature of the Wind Witch. Soon enough, she has separated the children from their parents and cast them into the fantastical worlds of Kristoff’s books.
Left to fend for themselves in the mysterious realms of Kristoff’s fiction, Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor must band together to make sense of their banishment and find a way to defeat the Wind Witch who has trapped them within the pages of her father’s works. Along the way, the children are alternately helped, hindered and betrayed by the characters they encounter.
This is a decidedly action-driven story and the precocious Walker children seldom experience a dull moment from the first time they lay eyes on the mysterious Kristoff House. Readers will find themselves similarly swept along for the ride. Though the cultural references in the dialogue may date the story before its time, today's kids will particularly enjoy the number of mentions of current popular media and electronic devices.
Recommended for upper middle grade or young adult readers for somewhat mature content, House of Secrets will hold particular appeal for fans of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Danny Cohen is in the fourth grade, follows the rules and enjoys playing baseball. Calvin Waffle is the new kid in class, having recently moved with his mother into a house on Danny’s block. Calvin likes science experiments and seeing how far he can bend the rules without getting caught. It’s one of Calvin’s experiments that starts an unlikely friendship in Danny’s Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment by David A. Adler.
For a whole week, Calvin follows Danny everywhere, constantly writing his observations in a notebook. On the second week, Calvin asks Danny to hold jelly beans in his pocket. It seems like a strange request, but Danny agrees and the Jelly Bean Experiment is underway. What will Calvin learn from his experiment and how will Calvin’s powers of observation help Danny’s team win the upcoming baseball game?
This is a first in a new series by Adler, the author of the much loved Cam Jansen series. Child-like doodles are found throughout the book as if drawn by Danny. A funny story about friendship and acceptance, Danny’s Doodles is perfect for readers transitioning into chapter books.
Colors arouse emotions, but the feelings evoked are as unique as each person. Jessica Young tackles this concept in My Blue Is Happy. Readers follow one girl as she explores with family and friends and shares her original ideas about colors. Her best friend likes pink because it’s pretty, but our protagonist finds it annoying, like a piece of gum stuck to your shoe or a bug bite. Chocolate is ordinary says her dad, but this little girl thinks it’s special like chocolate syrup. The girl travels through her world in nine colors, concisely expressing her ideas about each. Illustrator Catia Chen’s vibrant acrylic illustrations capture all the personalities of the colors. Sure gray can be cold like a rainstorm, but if you’re cuddling with grandma on a cozy chair it’s warm and fuzzy. Young deftly explores the idea of contrasts and encourages readers to carefully consider the different feelings colors suggest.
In Henri’s Scissors, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, color is the star, helping an aging artist reinvent his creative self. Winter covers Mattise’s early years and journey toward becoming an artist, but her focus here is on the last years of his life, following an illness that left him unable to paint. When faced without a creative outlet, Matisse was overjoyed when he picked up a pair of scissors and started cutting colored paper. He transformed his sick room into a secret fantasy garden filled with vibrant flowers and showy birds. The illustrations, acrylic and cut-paper, are simple, yet perfectly depict the joy Matisse felt while amidst some of his finest works. This is a tender homage to a man whose legacy is such everlasting beauty.
From the author of Every Soul a Star comes a story that’s out of this world — literally! In Pi in the Sky, Wendy Mass weaves an imaginative tale of worlds colliding, and the rollercoaster adventure that results.
Joss is a seventh son. Not just any seventh son, but the seventh son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe. Expecting a superhero, imbued with extraordinary powers and responsibilities? Guess again. Despite what you may have heard, being that special “seventh son” does not imbue you with any great powers or great responsibilities — even if your dad is the SOU. With six older brothers, the greatest responsibility Joss has ever held is delivering pies across The Realms to the Powers That Be.
That’s right; a glorified pie delivery boy.
Mind you, these aren’t ordinary pies, but more about that later...
To date, Joss’ life has revolved around going to school (even immortals need an education), hanging out with his best friend Kal and getting those pies delivered on time. Then one day, a girl from Earth winds up in The Realms after her planet has been obliterated and Joss’ whole world is thrown out of orbit. Upgraded from delivery boy to world architect, it’s up to Joss to somehow rebuild Earth with the help of the planet’s last human, Annika.
Pi in the Sky is a spirited fantasy of friendship, adventure and the awesome sciences that shape our world. It is a balanced story that is accessible and fun to read even as it incorporates some challenging concepts. The characters are relatable and the story is alternately playful and poignant. Chapters are headed by quotes from scientists and visionaries that succinctly capture the theme of the chapter to follow. Recommended for middle grade readers and, in particular, fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
Forty years after World War III decimated the world’s population with its Green Bombs and catastrophically altered the Earth's landscape, a young girls leaps off a mountain without a parachute. Thus begins Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman. As a result of the Green Bombs, metals formed different properties, new plants grew and electricity has been wiped out. Twelve-year-old Hope Toriella lives in a community formed in the crater of a bomb blast high in the mountains. Her small town focuses on re-inventing the lost technology of the bygone era. Her teacher shows them relics of cell phones, flashlights and cameras. New inventions range from a slotted spoon to medicines that combat new diseases. The bombs also created bands of air called the Bomb’s Breath, so dense a person will suffocate with just one inhalation. Miserably inept at inventing, Hope takes solace in the thrill of diving off a cliff through the Bomb’s Breath. The dense air slows her descent; she just has to remember to hold her breath. When word gets out that Hope’s town has medicine that combats the dreaded new Shadel’s Sickness, bandits take the town hostage until all of the medicine is turned over. To save her town, Hope and her friends must traverse dangerous terrains through the worst blizzard conditions since the war to seek help, all the while avoiding both bandits and the Bomb’s Breath.
This fast-paced adventure reads like a cross between a Wild West novel and a Mad Max movie. The author crafts an engaging, nail-biting story with strong characters and a great finish. Descriptions of the new earth are seamlessly woven into the plot, offering the reader a clear understanding of this altered world without sacrificing its storyline. Sky Jumpers is the first book in an anticipated series, with book two expected to be published in fall 2014. Young fans of science fiction and action adventure books will love Sky Jumpers.
(Release date 9/24/13)
Brandon Mull kicks off the latest multi-platform series for tweens with Wild Born, the first book in the Spirit Animals series. Each title will be written by a different popular children’s author. This new fantasy adventure series joins kid favorites, The 39 Clues and Infinity Ring, and is sure to be a hit with readers who appreciate fast-paced stories combined with online interaction.
The series is set in Erdas, a fantasy world where 11-year-old children are tested to see if they possess a spirit animal. If positive, the children will share a rare connection with an animal, a bond so strong that great powers are bestowed on both. Four children from vastly different cultures and all parts of the world not only reveal a spirit animal, but each calls one of The Four Fallen Beasts. Conor, Abeke, Meilin and Rollan call forth a wolf, leopard, panda and falcon. The resurrection of these four mighty animals signals a resurgence of an evil power that needs to be stopped. These four children are destined for the ultimate mission — to save Erdas. With the assistance of a powerful-but-secretive order, the four learn to bond with their animal and gain strength, wisdom and courage. The action is non-stop entertainment, and the world of Erdas is so clearly drawn, readers will be easily transported to this fantasy land.
The online role-playing game, available here, allows children to customize their own unique heroes, choose their spirit animals and go on their own quests to help save Erdas. Each book will unlock additional levels of game play. Look for the second book in the series in January, written by New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater. Additional authors slated to add installments include Marie Lu and Garth Nix.
Imagination runs wild in James Preller’s A Pirate’s Guide to Recess, illustrated by Greg Ruth. Cap’n Red and his merry crew are off on an adventure to find treasure when the lookout spies Molly and her mates. When Red calls for Molly’s surrender, his crew turns mutinous. Will Red be marooned on the open seas or will he be saved by the recess bell? Ruth’s illustrations easily delineate between full color reality and the line drawings in sepia and blue of the imaginary world. A homework section at the end of the book will help the reader expand their piratical vocabulary. This book is a follow up to Preller’s A Pirates Guide to First Grade.
Dave Horowitz takes us on a rhyming journey through the alphabet in Twenty-six Pirates. A call has gone out to assemble the crew of the Sea Princess, and 26 boys arrive in the hopes of joining the frog captain’s crew. From Arty to Zach, each boy’s name represents a letter of the alphabet. The illustrations are colorful and comical. Your little buccaneer will enjoy looking for the letters on each page.
Younger mateys will be delighted reading Peek-a-Boo Pirates by Charles Reasoner. The cardboard pages, simple dialogue and sweet illustrations are appealing to the wee rapscallions. Toddlers can identify each of the different animals of the pirate crew as they follow the treasure map to where X marks the spot.
For most Jewish boys, the event they must prepare for is the Bar Mitzvah at age 13. For 12-year-old Yanek Gruener, his greatest concern is where his next meal is coming from and whether he will live to see another day. In Prisoner B-3087 by Alan Gratz, young Yanek’s life is forever changed when the Nazis invade Krakow, Poland, and force him and his family to live in a ghetto. They face incredible deprivations and the constant threat of deportation to concentration camps, or being shot for no reason. It is a harrowing existence that stretches Yanek to the limits of human endurance as he plays a cat and mouse game of survival with the Nazis.
Based on the true story of Holocaust survivor Jack Gruener, Prisoner B-3087 relates in graphic detail the horrors that Yanek witnesses as he is sent from the ghetto in Krakow to work in such concentration camps as Birkenau, Auschwitz, and Dachau, and even the salt mine at Wieliczka. His family disappears one day when he is coming home from his work detail, and Yanek never hears from them again. Separated from all those he loves, Yanek spends nearly nine years as a captive trying to make sense of why the Nazis treated the Jews and the other ‘undesirables’ (ex., Gypsies, homosexuals) with such unthinkable cruelty. While Yanek’s story is a powerful one, this frank depiction of life in the ghetto and concentration camps may be disturbing to younger or sensitive readers.
Welcome back to the hilariously fractured fairy tale realm of Christopher Healy’s Thirteen Kingdoms. A good deal has happened since the adventures encountered in The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom and the four lovable Princes Charming are back for another caper in The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle. When last we left the princes – Gustav, Liam, Duncan and Frederic – our noble heroes had just formed the League of Princes and had finally gained some recognition beyond the Prince Charming moniker. Now disaster once again looms on the horizon, and it’s up to the league to prevent a certain magical jewel from falling into villainous hands.
Despite having set the bar high with Saving Your Kingdom, Healy’s return to the Thirteen Kingdoms is as triumphant an extension of the story started in its predecessor as one could hope. The characters first introduced in Saving Your Kingdom begin to come into their own in this second helping of heroism. While the fast paced, catchy dialogue and imaginative scenarios still evoke plenty of chortles, the real strength of Storming the Castle lies in the progressive character development of the princes and their famed princess counterparts. Not without their flaws, each of these heroes and heroines have obstacles to overcome and a lot to learn about themselves along the way. Their distinctive personalities and developing friendships will leave the reader eager for the next in the series: The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, coming in spring 2014. Recommended for middle grade readers and above.
Star Wars: Jedi Academy is a great new graphic novel by Jeffrey Brown. Roan Novachez has dreamed of being a starfighter pilot like his father. His brother attends Pilot Academy Middle School, so Roan feels certain that he will go there too. When his friends receive their acceptance letters, he begins to worry. Roan is crushed when a rejection letter arrives with the recommendation that he attend Tatooine Agriculture Academy. What could be worse than going to plant school?
All is not lost. Master Yoda has sensed Roan’s potential. “Strong in you, the Force is – Jedi, you may be.” Even though most students begin their training as toddlers, Roan packs up and leaves Tatooine to attend Jedi Academy on the distant planet of Coruscant. He will face all kinds of new challenges, from learning how to lift objects with the Force to deciphering what Master Yoda is saying. There are also the usual issues that every middle school student will encounter, like dealing with the class bully to that first crush.
Fluctuating between prose and comic book style, this book will appeal to the upper-elementary age children who liked The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate series. But you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this book. Star Wars fans of all ages will get a kick out Star Wars: Jedi Academy.