Ten-year-old Jack Foster has never been the center of his parents’ universe. Spending much of the year at boarding school, Jack’s infrequent trips home to smog-choked Victorian London are fraught with awkwardness, boredom and his own guilty anticipation of returning to school.
So when on one visit home Jack spies Mr. Havelock, his mother’s mysterious new spiritualist, opening a door where no earthly door should be, he jumps at the chance for adventure and follows...
...into a magical world that so closely mimics our own, the line between what is mechanical, what is magical and what is alive has long been blurred. Here the air is thick with smoke, and many residents are obliged to wear goggles and nostril grills to shield them from the noxious atmosphere. Whole, flesh-and-blood children are rare and prized by Londinium’s ruler: the Lady. Now, the Lady requires a new, perfect son and she’s set her sights on Jack.
As keen as he was for adventure, Jack isn’t so sure he’s ready to be adopted, and the Lady’s previous son, Mr. Havelock (aka Sir Lorcan), isn’t happy about being replaced. This new world is not without friends though, including Beth, a wind-up doll with an attitude, and Dr. Snailwater, the scientist who created her. If Jack wants to escape back to his own world, he’ll need the help of his new friends and that of the Gearwing, a powerful, mythical creature that no one has seen in years.
Emma Trevayne paints an atmospheric and eerily entrancing landscape in Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, her middle-grade steampunk debut. Boasting excellent world building, characteristic of the steampunk genre, gorgeous cover art and an independent protagonist with amusing supporting characters, Flights is best suited for younger middle-grade readers.
For all the narrative merit displayed in much of the story, Flights does suffer from some underdeveloped and ultimately unresolved plot devices. Among these weaker elements are the obscure motivations of the Lady in continually craving perfect, eternal sons in the first place, as well as the underdeveloped mythos of the Gearwing itself. As a standalone novel these flaws are prominent, however, in the larger context of a series (should Ms. Trevayne continue to expand Jack’s horizons) these shortcomings might be camouflaged.
It has happened to most of us at some point. You’re reading a book on a plane or on the beach. Suddenly, there is a heartbreaking plot twist or a beloved character dies. You try to fight it, but it’s a lost cause. You’re crying in public, and it’s not pretty. These sad stories highlight the deep emotional power that books have over us.
• Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls is one of the first books that made many of us cry. This novel about the friendship between a boy and his two hunting dogs is a modern classic.
• Narrated by Death, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is an unforgettable story about a girl named Liesel living in Nazi Germany. The novel was recently adapted into a movie, but this is a book that you simply must read.
• Me Before You by Jojo Moyes follows Louisa Clark, a young woman who takes on a job as a caretaker for Will Traynor, who is a quadriplegic. The two of them quickly grow close, but Will’s plans for his assisted suicide loom ahead of them in this tragic, romantic tale.
• Ian McEwan’s Atonement is an elegant exploration of guilt and forgiveness. During the summer of 1935, 13-year-old Briony accuses the family maid’s son Robbie of sexually assaulting her cousin. The consequences of her testimony haunt her for the rest of her life.
• Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia is a beloved childhood favorite for many readers. Despite their differences, Jess and Leslie become inseparable friends. When tragedy strikes, Jess must use the lessons that their friendship taught him to heal.
• Set in a post-apocalyptic America, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the story of a father and son who walk through the desolation, depending only on each other while they try to make their way to the coast.
• Gail Caldwell’s Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship will make you want to call your best friend. In this poignant memoir, Caldwell chronicles her friendship with her best friend Caroline Knapp from their first meeting through Knapp’s death of lung cancer at age 42.
Caldecott Honor winner Mo Willems has brought back his beloved pigeon character in the funny new picture book The Pigeon Needs a Bath! The bus driver, this time clad in a shower cap and bathrobe, once again needs your help. Pigeon is absolutely, positively filthy. It’s been about a month, maybe even longer, since Pigeon had a bath. Goodness sakes, Pigeon is really starting to smell. He’s so stinky that the flies buzzing around Pigeon don’t want to be near him. Can you help convince Pigeon that he should take a bath?
Sixth in the Pigeon series, we last saw Pigeon two years ago co-starring in The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? Duckling makes an appearance in Pigeon’s new book in the form of a rubber ducky in the bath tub. Cartoon-like illustrations transition from muddy brown to bright, clean colors as Pigeon finally gets into the bath and starts to get clean. He’s having so much fun, he may never get out of the bath tub!
Whether it’s driving a bus, finding a hot dog, staying up late or wanting a puppy, Pigeon is sure to delight young children with his requests, which may also mimic some of the desires of the audience as well. Willems, both author and illustrator, has been awarded three Caldecott Honors, two Theodor Seuss Geisel Medals and Three Geisel Honors for his children’s books. And as your little ones progress from picture books to beginning readers, they are sure to also enjoy his Elephant & Piggie series.
Are you a fan of superheroes? Do you enjoy a funny mystery? Have you recently started to read chapter books? If you answered yes to these questions, you are sure to enjoy the Kung Pow Chicken series by Cyndi Marko. We first meet our superhero siblings, second grader Gordon Blue and his little brother Benny, in Let’s Get Cracking! Gordon and Benny are playing follow the leader at their Uncle Quack’s lab when Gordon trips and falls into a vat of toxic sludge and Benny follows. The boys are quickly rescued by their uncle, but later Gordon notices that he’s feeling a little strange. Empowered by his new found superpowers, Gordon dons a disguise and becomes Kung Pow Chicken. Every good superhero needs a trusty sidekick, and Benny is eager to fill the role as Egg Drop. It’s not long before the town of Fowladelphia is in need of their help when everyone starts losing their feathers. Could Granny Goosebumps be behind the flock of naked chickens? And will they be able to solve the mystery before they get grounded?
Gordon and Benny return in the second book, Bok! Bok! Boom! While attending the opera, the main singer, Honey Comb, is kidnapped shortly after intermission. Fortunately, our superheroes are never far from their super suits, and soon Kung Pow Chicken and Egg Drop are ready to get cracking. Could the visiting world-famous sound scientist Dr. Screech be behind this sinister plot? Will this pair of chicken crime fighters be able to save Honey Comb? And can Gordon keep his identity secret from the snooping reporter Sam Snood?
Perfect for readers transitioning into first chapter books, this new series is full of bright, colorful illustrations. Packed with action and a healthy dose of humor, kids will love the adventures of Kung Pow Chicken. If you enjoy the first two installments, you won't have to wait long for book three, The Birdy Snatchers, which will be out this June and is available for reserve now.
Fourth grade can be tough, especially when it seems like your best friend has thrown you over for the new girl in school, your dog is being sent away to obedience training camp, and you have to sing a solo in the school play. In Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake, Julie Sternberg’s heroine Eleanor is back for another series of ups and downs. Eleanor’s latest set of woes begins when Ainsley arrives on the scene and seems to steal away her best friend Pearl. Unsure what to do, Eleanor becomes frustrated by Pearl’s apparent fascination with everything Ainsley does or says, and accidentally blurts out a secret about Ainsley that causes a rift between the girls.
On top of this drama, Eleanor is also selected to star in her school’s fourth grade show, an original, all-rabbit musical adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. Petrified of singing by herself, and possibly looking foolish in front of her friends and Nicholas (the boy she may have a crush on), Eleanor looks for ways to back out of the show. Can Eleanor overcome her stage fright, prove to her parents that her dog has been broken of his bad habits and find a way to make things right with Pearl?
Sternberg has created a likeable heroine in Eleanor. While it’s not necessary to read the first two books in the series to understand the story, readers will undoubtedly want to discover more about her. The story is told in verse, which may appeal to reluctant readers who are daunted by traditional chapter books with long passages of prose.
Beloved character Hello Kitty returns to delight in a third graphic novel Hello Kitty: Surprise! by Jacob Chabot and Ian McGinty. A compilation of 10 short stories, this nearly wordless book follows Hello Kitty and her friends on a myriad of adventures. Whether they are enjoying a day at the beach, finding a large, mysterious egg or going on a pirate adventure, each story has some sort of unexpected twist that will keep you wondering what could possibly happen next. Can a book really transport you to another place? And what will Kitty’s parents do when they come to Kitty’s rocking birthday party? Hello Kitty fans are sure to enjoy!
If you are looking for a picture book to enjoy with your little cat lover, look no further than Nat the Cat Can Sleep Like That written by Victoria Allenby and illustrated by Tara Anderson. It’s daytime, and while the world buzzes around him, Nat the cat is enjoying his naps. Whether in dresser drawers or in front of doors, on the stairs or on chairs, this orange tabby can be found sleeping in all kinds of strange, albeit realistic places. Despite all that his black and white kitten buddy tries, Nat will not let the noise of the piano the kitten’s juggling act disturb him from getting a nice daytime snooze. However, there is one thing that Nat cannot sleep through. Can you guess what that is? To find out, you will just have to pick up this whimsical rhyming book filled with playful and fun illustrations.
Two new novels written by children for children are sure to inspire any young writer.
Young author Jake Marcionette hit the bestseller list at 13 years old with his debut novel, Just Jake. Jake Ali Mathews is moving from Florida to Maryland to start sixth grade in the fourth new school of his young life. Full of confidence and experienced at being the “new kid,” Jake makes a plan to attain his previous level of awesomeness at his new school, Kinney Elementary. Inspiring confidence and fortitude, Jake’s “Rules of Awesomeness” guide him well, although it takes some time to achieve his goal. Readers will easily relate to this thoroughly likable character as he navigates the social scene at Kinney Elementary School and deals with his mean older sister. Illustrated with a combination of color cartoon and photograph collage by Victor Rivas Villa, Just Jake is a wonderful read. Fans of Gordon Korman’s Swindle series and Rachel Renée Russell’s Dork Diaries will enjoy Just Jake.
The Adventure of a Lifetime is the first novel for 13-year-old Ravina Thakkar. Published with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois, Thakkar’s novel is a fantastic tale of a young girl with a love of reading. When a special teacher gives her a copy of the new Amber the Brave book, 9-year-old Betty is ecstatic. After the book wakes her up at midnight and asks if she wants to go on an adventure, Betty is sucked into her own adventure of a lifetime with Amber herself. She and Amber must work together to defeat the evil Doctor Sly and find the portal to return Betty to real life. Fans of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series will enjoy this fantasy that brings a storybook to life.
Two beloved children’s book characters are featured in a couple of new series for young chapter book readers.
Author Megan McDonald adds to her Judy Moody and Stink collection of stories with Judy Moody and Friends, a series focusing on Judy’s friends. With bright, bold colors, the illustrations by Erwin Madrid make these shorter novels appealing to newly independent readers. Jessica Finch in Pig Trouble starts off the series with Judy’s friend Jessica preparing for her birthday party and really wanting a pig for her gift. After a fight with Judy, she disinvites her to her party. Rocky Zang in The Amazing Mr. Magic has Judy’s best friend Rocky trying his hand at magic. Judy helps out as his bumbling assistant until she gets mad and stomps off. Capturing the charm and mood of the original series, Judy Moody and Friends is sure to be a hit with fans of Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones series and Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine series.
Fans of Hank Zipzer: The World’s Greatest Underachiever, by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, can get to know Hank as a second grader in their new series, Here’s Hank. Thanks to an observant fourth grade music teacher, Hank is diagnosed with dyslexia in the original series. Before then, despite his tremendous effort and to the great frustration of his father, Hank just couldn’t get his schoolwork done. In A Short Tale about a Long Dog, Hank’s father promises he can get a dog if there is improvement in all of his grades. Despite his best efforts, Hank doesn’t improve his math grade. Mr. Zipzer gives him one chance to take care of his dog, but puts him on warning. Hank is a realistic and relatable character. Young fans will enjoy reading about Hank’s efforts to do his best and empathizing when he fails. A bonus for young readers is that the Here’s Hank series is published with a relatively new font called “Dyslexie,” which is designed to make the letters more distinct and “weighted down.” According to the authors, these attributes help kids read faster and with fewer errors.
Three strong new picture books are sure to bring smiles to young readers and their caregivers. Debut author/illustrator Andrew Prahin brings us Brimsby’s Hats, wherein the title character owns and operates a small mail-order hat business out of his cozy home. Each day, his badger friend comes to help design and box the millinery, until one day when it is time for the striped one to set off on a new adventure. Lonely Brimsby must find new friends and a new purpose. Soft digital pastels and engaging characters lift this fine tale that covers the well-worn topic of adjusting to change.
In Sparky!, by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans, a young girl is desperate to have a pet. Her mother declines the pleas, citing the amount of work that is required. Undaunted, she has a sloth sent from Brazil, and instantly (and, as it turns out, ironically) calls him Sparky. The young girl attempts to teach him the sorts of tricks that she expects him to learn, to no avail. He prefers to be a sloth-like sloth! Cool watercolors, hand-drawn lettering and touches of humor for kids and adults are all present in this story of measured expectations.
Some Bugs, by Angela DiTerlizzi and Brendan Wenzel, is a raucous introduction to many insects and related crawlers. In simple verse, countless attributes of some bugs are relayed. Each double-page spread brings much to look for, as the young reader may want to try to identify which bugs are depicted. Wenzel’s collage-like, mixed-media illustrations are entomologically accurate but with exaggerated bug eyes. At the end, all of the creatures are identified, including a cat that makes multiple appearances during the proceedings. This picture book is a bright, fun reminder of the insects that soon will again be upon our backyards.
When A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo opens, the main character, Michael, is an old man trying to discover the place in Belgium where his grandfather died during World War I. As he wanders the peaceful countryside where a battle once raged, he thinks back to his childhood in London and the events that led him to this spot.
Called “Poodle” by his classmates due to his curly hair and his French mother, Michael quickly discovers ways to deal with the taunts and prejudices that he encounters throughout his childhood.
Although his father died when Michael was a baby, his mother stays in touch with his father’s family, which consists of two rather eccentric, elderly aunts. Michael wonders about his father and wants to know more about him, but no one is willing to tell him much. However, one day, Michael receives a package from one of the aunts that contains a small notebook that reveals secrets about his father and grandfather that he could have never imagined.
Morpurgo is a masterful storyteller whose past work includes the best-seller War Horse, and he is at his best when writing historical fiction. His plot for A Medal for Leroy is loosely based on the life of Walter Tull, the first black officer in the British Army. This book is a rare one for me: Not only was it suspenseful and poignant, but I could not put it down, and I read it in one sitting.