Newbery Honor Award Winner for Afternoon of the Elves
Great read for MS!
Two friends, Ruben and Jeddy find a dead body washed up on the shore of Rhode Island. It is 1929, and Prohibition is in place. However, laws banning liquor have the inevitable and adverse effect of promoting its vibrant and illicit trade. The stakes are getting higher, and times are dangerous. Hijacking, war between the bootlegging gangs, betrayal, and other subterfuge make for an exciting story. Complex relationships and a complex topic will leave readers thinking about the wider implications of war on contraband. After the repeal of the laws banning liquor, “It had begun to sink in that the violence that came from keeping liquor out of people’s hands was a lot worse than the violence of people drinking to their heart’s content.”
This tale is masterfully told and has a great twist at the end. I highly recommend it for MS and up.
A Curious Tale of the In-between
By Lauren DeStefano
Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens (September 1, 2015)
I received this book for free in return for an honest review from Bloomsbury via Netgalley. This is a good spooky, somewhat fanciful tale about a young girl who can talk to ghosts. Pram, our hero, is a young girl who came into the world in a most tragic way. She is raised by two aunts who run a nursing home at some time in the early turn of the century. She gets along fine playing games with the elderly residents and her ghostly friend by the lake. When social services decide Pram shouldn’t be homeschooled anymore she is forced to go to school and interact with children her own age. She befriends another lonely boy named Clarence. Together they take on a mysterious fortune teller in an effort to find the parents they both lost. And in the end discover their true worth.
There is a lot that is good about this story, and I did love the atmosphere of the tale. And the characters are marvelous. Interactions between Pram and the residents of the nursing home are charming. I believe that a lot of our kids who love ghost stories will enjoy this book. There are some very adult themes throughout and the story can be slow. About three-quarters of the way through I felt the story lost its way before collecting itself again towards the end, which is why I did not rate this book higher. But overall, a good story, and a fun read.
Parental Note which has some mild spoilers:
Pram’ mother commits suicide while she is pregnant with Pram, and that is how the story begins. It is a rough beginning for a junior fiction story, and depression and its effects run through this whole book. It is not a very cheerful or happy tale and I would not offer this to anyone who has lost a family member to suicide, or deals with severe depression. There are better books out there that discuss depression and suicide. And it is a rather grim tale, despite the “everything works out in the end” resolution. I am ok with tragedy, I am even ok with suicide in a children’ novel, but for a fantasy novel aimed at 3rd to 7th graders, I am worried that it starts with that and does not resolve the elephant in the room until the very end. There is a lot of death and end of life talk as well. So be aware of that.
Serafina and the Black Cloak
By Robert Beatty
Hardcover: 304 pages
Release date: July 14, 2015 | Age Range: 8 – 12 years | Grade Level: 3 – 7
What an absolute treat. I am so glad I was able to read this as an early eGalley from Disney and Netgalley. I sat down and read it all in under two hours. I rarely devour books like that, but This deservedly has the title of best new work. It is set on the Biltmore Estate during the height of the Vanderbilt’ power and influence. And yet, that scene largely takes a back seat to the goings on of the Biltmore’ quietest and least seen residents: Pa, the estate engineer, an his thirteen year old daughter Serafina. Serafina lives in the basement of the house and knows every nook and cranny. But when she witnesses a terrifying event in the sub basement, she is forced to come out of the shadows to stop a creeping evil from taking anyone else.
This is the best sort of children’ mystery novel. This is a wonderful spooky novel that blends enchanting characters, dark specters, and children running around at night long after the adults have gone to sleep. The Biltmore is a grand backdrop for a classic whodunnit that is sure to please any child with a bent for mystery and mayhem. This will be on our purchase list for the school, and I will be buying a hardback copy for my home library.
Parental note: This is a spooky fairy tale, and the black cloak is classic horror. There are some imagery that might upset younger kids. In fact one scene in particular was enough that it gave me pause thinking “would this be something that gives my ten year old nightmares?” I think the ending resolves that problem, but you have to get that far.
Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham
Age Range: 12 and up
Grade Level: 7 and up
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (May 19, 2015)
This was a Netgalley review. EBook free in exchange for an honest review.
As many of my friends know I am a big fan of diverse characters in my school reading lists. But none of that matters if the story behind the diversity is dull and flat. Even better than just diverse is when the story is so strong, that anyone can relate to the protagonist irregardless of where they came from or what religion they are. Scarlett is one of those characters, and Scarlett Undercover is one of those stories.
This is a great upper middle or young teen fiction mystery novel. Scarlett is a fun diverse main character and a nice change from the boilerplate of white snarky girl standing up for herself. Reminds me of a lot of the adult urban fiction out there, but done in a more kid friendly way. Scarlett is a young teen who operates a successful gumshoe business with an office complete with chain smoking stoop sitters, filing cabinets, and friendly cop. It is almost perfectly noir, and all of this is done amidst the backdrop of two Muslim sisters trying to maintain their family in spite of the tragic death of their Father and living in the middle of urban America.
This action packed mystery novel has it all: groups with secret agendas, stolen artifacts with mystic powers, even assassins. The beginning is a little choppy and the story takes a little time to get rolling, but once it does. Magic happens.
Parental note: violence and swearing are pretty much the only thing to worry with in this novel. But don’t read this expecting to get a better understanding of the Muslim religion or Persian or Arabic culture. Like I said, this is a fantasy-mystery novel and NOT meant to be a factual explanation or agenda book.