The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
Jan06

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Forced out of Ireland because of the potato famine, Molly and her brother Kip have nowhere to go. They find themselves working for a strange family at an even stranger house in the middle of the English countryside. Both Molly and Kip realize the Windsor family is hiding a dark secret and it is centered around the giant black tree growing into the side of their house. Soon Molly and Kip are also caught by the curse that haunts the Windsors. Will they be able to stop the evil that threatens them all? This dark tale is carefully crafted for lovers of mystery and ghosts. Auxier develops complex characters with a captivating conflict. The Night Gardener is well-written, but only for readers who appreciate a spin chilling tale. The story is not violent or inappropriate, but only good for kids who want a more frightening type of adventure. Recommended ages–10 and up...

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The Sasquatch Escape by Suzanne Selfors
Jan06

The Sasquatch Escape by Suzanne Selfors

Ben Silverstein is prepared for a boring summer with his Grandpa Abe in Butttonville. But then his grandpa’s cat shows up with what appears to be a wounded baby dragon. Ben and his new friend Pearl, take the dragon to Dr. Woo’s Worm Hospital, a strange veterinary hospital set up in the old button factory. Once inside, they find it is actually a secret hospital for imaginary creatures. When a sasquatch escapes from the hospital, Ben and Pearl are assigned to bring it back without detection. The Sasquatch Escape is a fun beginning to a series filled with adventure and mythical creatures. The plot is both exciting and humorous, perfect for middle grade readers. Illustrations by Dan Santat help bring the characters to life and enhance the lighthearted adventure. This is a great series for young readers and it even includes supplemental art and writing activities as well as a recipe. Recommended ages–8 and up...

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First Light by Rebecca Stead
Jun29

First Light by Rebecca Stead

Thea has never seen the sun. Generations ago, her people were labeled as witches and threatened with extinction. To survive, they created an arctic, underground civilization where they have lived ever since. However, space and food are now dwindling. Thea dreams of exploring the world above to help her people expand their home, but the Council opposes her plans. Peter longs for adventure and finds it when he joins his parents on an expedition to Greenland. While there, he struggles with a series of strange visions and headaches. As Peter tries to understand his visions, he is drawn closer to Thea’s hidden home. First Light is an exciting story of adventure, determination, and family love. Set in the beautiful arctic north, this mystery will entertain lovers of contemporary fiction and fantasy. The intended audience is tween readers, but younger and older readers will also find the story age appropriate and enjoyable. Recommended ages—10-14 years old...

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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
Jan26

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library has something of interest for nearly all elementary school and tween readers—mystery, adventure, humor, logic puzzles, and really cool gadgets.  Mr. Lemoncello is a modern Willa Wonka with a specialty for games instead of candy.  Because his first ideas and encouragement started in a public library, Mr. Lemoncello creates an amazing public library for Alexandriaville.  Before the library opens, twelve children are selected for an overnight lock-in to explore the library.  Mr. Lemoncello presents the children with his best game ever.  Can they use clues in the library to find a secret way out in only 24 hours? In addition to an intriguing story, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library includes valuable lessons and interesting logic puzzles.  Through the characters search for clues, readers learn about rebus puzzles, the Dewey decimal system, and many children’s books.  The story also reveals lessons about teamwork and honesty.  The book is gentle enough for elementary school readers, but entertaining enough for tweens.  Readers will finish with a list of new books to read and great appreciation for public libraries (even if no one has a library quite like Mr. Lemoncello). Recommended ages—8-13 years old...

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The Mysterious Howling:  The Incorribible Children of Ashton Place #1 by Maryrose Wood
Jan13

The Mysterious Howling: The Incorribible Children of Ashton Place #1 by Maryrose Wood

Penelope Lumley anticipates a bright future in her first position as a governess for a family of quality.  She dreams of teaching Latin, geography, and poetry to children who are bright and eager to learn.  The children are eager to learn, but they were also literally raised by wolves.  Alexander and Beowulf must learn how to fasten trousers.  Cassiopeia must stop howling and barking.  All three children must learn to observe squirrels without chasing them up the nearest tree. Luckily, Miss Lumley has a fondness for children and animals.  With patience and love, she teaches these children of Ashton place what it means to be human children.  But have they learned enough to attend Lady Constance’s Christmas Ball?  Miss Penelope Lumley and the Incorrigible Children are delightful characters that will capture readers’ hearts.  Their adventures will entertain a wide variety of ages making this book perfect for reading as a family.  I listened to an excellent audiobook read by Katherine Kelgren which I highly recommend.  Although the premise of the book is a little dark (wild children found in the woods) the writing and characterization keep the book light and appropriate even for younger ages....

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The Lost Kingdom by Matthew J. Kirby
Dec20

The Lost Kingdom by Matthew J. Kirby

Billy Bartram dreams of accompanying his father on one of his expeditions through the American wilderness, but when the invitation comes, the adventure is not what Billy expected.  Traveling in a flying aeroship, Billy joins his father’s secret society of philosophers and scientist on a special quest.  They are searching for the lost kingdom of the Welsh Prince Madoc to seek help in an oncoming war against the French.  However, a host of unexpected dangers hinder their progress. In The Lost Kingdom, Matthew Kirby combines historical characters with fantasy.  He creates a wild and alternate America with lost civilizations and fantastical creatures.  Explorers experience strange landscapes, a giant bear-wolf and mastodon-like Incognitum.  History and imagination combine to create a compelling adventure story perfect for tween readers.  This book is also great entertainment for American colonial history lovers. however, they must be open to an alternate reality....

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Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
Dec10

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

This delightfully whimsical book is one of my new favorites.  Flora Belle, a self-proclaimed cynic, is a lonely ten-year-old girl obsessed with comic books.  Ignored by her mother and separated from her father, Flora is looking for friendship and meaning in her life.  When a neighborhood squirrel is sucked up by a runaway vacuum, Flora finds her friend.  Ulysses emerges from the vacuum with super strength, enhanced intelligence, and an insatiable hunger.  Together, Flora and Ulysses begin to defeat villains, fight evil, and bring love and beauty back into the world. With poetic writing by Kate DiCamillo and magical illustrations by K.G. Campbell, Flora and Ulysses is both a superhero comic and a loveable children’s story.  The story is at times painful, humorous, and even profound.  Flora and Ulysses are characters who will be loved and cheered by both children and parents.  This book is a perfect family read because it appeals to all ages and teaches the value of words and family.  The reading level is perfect for middle grade readers, but it is a story for the whole family....

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Mister Max:  The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt
Nov24

Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt

Max Starling lives happily with his actor parents in their home connected to the Starling Theater, but a strange invitation changes everything. William and Mary Starling, Max’s parents, are invited to India to spend several months with the Maharajah of Kashmir. Max intends to go with them, but when he goes to meet his parents aboard The Flower of Kashmir, his parents have disappeared and no one remembers the ship or his parents. Twelve-year-old Max is forced to find a way to support himself while solving the mystery of his missing parents. As he looks for work, Max stumbles onto several chances to find lost things for people. He calls himself a Solutioneer with a new disguise for every job. Max also meets engaging characters and helps some friends solve mysteries of their own. This whimsical mystery is filled with endearing characters and a twisting plotline that is fun for kid readers and their parents. The story is perfect for reading on your own or reading aloud and, although most of the story resolves, the author intends at least one sequel. Recommended ages–9 and up...

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The Great Unexpected, by Sharon Creech
Feb13

The Great Unexpected, by Sharon Creech

Once again, Sharon Creech uses poetic writing and endearing characters to create a heartwarming story. Naomi Deane and Lizzie Scatterding are two orphan girls living in the town of Blackbird Tree. One summer day, a mysterious boy falls from a tree and into their lives. With the appearance of the ‘Finn boy,’ unexpected happenings and curious surprises begin to occur. Through these events and a wide variety of characters, Creech shares a tale that illustrates how ‘a delicate cobweb link[s] us all.’ The Great Unexpected is a story of coming of age and finding your place in the world. It also teaches the power of kindness and the importance of forgiveness. Creech’s characters are intriguing, quirky, but also very real. The story is a mystery whose resolution shows the interconnectedness of the world. Creech’s intended audience is tween readers, but I think her story can reach younger and older readers, too. It is a good book for reading aloud in a family with a variety of ages. Recommended for independent readers ages 9 and up, and reading aloud for all ages....

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Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, by John Grisham
Nov24

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, by John Grisham

The son of two attorneys, Theodore Boone knows every lawyer, judge, and police officer in his small town. He also knows more about the law than any thirteen year old and is the first choice for kids (and even some adults) seeking legal advice. However, when Theo learns of an unknown witness for the town’s current murder trial, he finds even his legal knowledge has limits. How does he make sure the truth is known without endangering the witness who trusts him for advice? John Grisham does a good job of presenting an exciting legal dilemma and intriguing story, while giving young readers some instruction on how the legal system works. He shows the reality of the courtroom without making it boring. I also like the character of Theo Boone, because he is a smart boy who isn’t afraid to ask adults for help when he doesn’t know the answers. This book is a great introduction to courtroom law and always remains age appropriate. Recommended for ages—10-14 years...

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Roberto & Me, by Dan Gutman
Oct01

Roberto & Me, by Dan Gutman

Stosh has the unique ability to travel through time using only a baseball card. He holds a card from the year he wants to visit, and suddenly he is there. In Roberto & Me, Stosh travels to 1969 to meet baseball star and humanitarian Roberto Clemente. His goal is to warn Roberto not to take the tragic plane flight that cut his life so short. However, Stosh soon learns changing the future is more difficult than he expected. This book and the other baseball card adventure books are great for young sports enthusiasts. They include baseball facts, but also a glimpse of life in different time periods. The stories are written with enough variety and conflict that even non-baseball lovers can enjoy them. Roberto & Me was a success with my ten-year-old daughter who has never watched a game of baseball in her life. Recommended for ages 8-12...

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The Clockwork Three, by Matthew J. Kirby
Oct01

The Clockwork Three, by Matthew J. Kirby

The streets of cities in the American Industrial Era are filled with hardship and struggles, especially for young people saddled with heavy responsibilities. Giuseppe is an orphaned street musician, forced to use his talent to support a cruel master. Hannah, a maid in a fancy hotel, is the sole supporter of her family of five. Frederick is an apprenticed clockmaker struggling to create something amazing. Their situations are all different, but they are drawn together through a series of adventures. As these three build friendships, they learn to rely on each other to get through their individual trials. Together, they learn about life, compassion, and loyalty. Their story is exciting and heartwarming as they face failures and triumphs. Kirby creates an interesting picture of an America touched with magic, perfect for readers seeking reality with a little fantasy. Recommended for ages 9-13....

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Museum of Thieves (Keepers Trilogy #1), by Lian Tanner
Jul24

Museum of Thieves (Keepers Trilogy #1), by Lian Tanner

Goldie lives in a world where children are safe-guarded treasures. They are literally guarded and chained to their Blessed Guardians until they reach the age of Separation. Instead of feeling protected, Goldie chafes at these restrictions and longs for freedom. When her day of Separation is interrupted by a bomb threat, Goldie escapes and is branded as a runaway. She soon finds a strange group of rebels in the city museum. As she learns the Museum’s secrets, Goldie learns of the danger threatening her city from inside and out. When catastrophe and dictatorship threaten the city, it is up to Goldie and her new friends to teach people the value of thinking for oneself. Danger teaches the strength and independence necessary for a thriving community and city. This story is filled with intrigue and adventure, but also holds valuable lessons about self-discovery and independence. It is a good read for young readers who enjoy adventure of the Harry Potter level, but without the same darkness. Recommended for ages 9-12....

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The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter
May21

The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter

A brilliant, modern rendering of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Ellen Potter manages to capture nearly all the elements of the classic children’s story, but weaves her details so deftly that the story remains alive and new. Like the garden in the story, Potter breathes life into a wonderful tale of hope and healing. After the death of her dysfunctional family, Roo Fanshaw is sent to live with a rich uncle she never knew existed. He lives in a strange island home which used to be a tuberculosis sanatorium. As Roo explores her new surroundings, she finds secrets about her family as well as her new home. Potter’s characters are mysterious and often mistrustful, but also very heartwarming. The Humming Room is intriguing for 8-10 year-old readers or good for a family read-aloud....

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Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, by Wendelin Van Draanen
May21

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, by Wendelin Van Draanen

Sammy Keyes amuses herself by observing the world outside her Gram’s apartment through binoculars. Her sightings are common until one day Sammy witnesses a burglary in the Heavenly Hotel across the street. When she tries to report her findings, no one wants to listen to a middle schooler turned sleuth. However, the burglar is on to Sammy and she has to use her wits to solve the crime and prove her evidence. This modern-day Nancy Drew has the same deductive brain, but a little more sass. Sammy’s adventures are complex enough for middle school readers, but harmless enough for younger children, too. This first book in the series and the others that follow are great entertainment for clue seekers with a skill for deduction....

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William S. and the Great Escape, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Apr02

William S. and the Great Escape, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Zilpha Keatley Snyder writes great stories for readers between 8 and tween. Her stories feature strong, child heroes having fast-paced and intriguing adventures. However, she keeps the stories appropriate for young audiences in subject and content. Another great thing about Snyder is the number of books she has written. If you enjoy one, there are many more to choose. In William S. and the Great Escape, William Baggett is a precocious and creative kid trapped in rotten family. With an angry and lazy father, mean stepmother, and a seemingly innumerable group of bullying older siblings, William longs for escape. His plans are altered when some of the older kids flush his younger sister Jancy’s pet guinea pig down the toilet. At that point, she insists that they and the two youngest Baggetts hit the road. Their escape is filled with adventures and close calls as four neglected kids try to find a better home....

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Smart Dog, by Vivian Vande Velde
Apr02

Smart Dog, by Vivian Vande Velde

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Smart Dog by Vivian Vande Velde. I grabbed it on a whim, because we needed another read aloud book for my 4 and 5 year old boys. As it turned out, they were hooked along with me, my husband, and my 9-year-old daughter. My boys have a problem with intense conflict, so a lot of the books they like are a little slow. However, this book was gentle enough for them and interesting enough for me. They missed some of the interpersonal conflict between 5th graders, but it didn’t take away from the story. On her way to school, Amy Prochenko is approached by a dog on the run, but not just any dog. Sherlock is a lab experiment who escaped from the university lab when he overheard the head scientist talking about dissecting his brain. Amy has many adventures and finds herself making new friends as she strives to keep Sherlock safe. A funny and light story about an incredible dog and a fast thinking girl. This one is great for all ages....

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A Tale of Two Castles, by Gail Carson Levine
Mar13

A Tale of Two Castles, by Gail Carson Levine

“Beware the whited sepulcher,” are the last words of advice Elodie hears from her mother when leaving home for a ten year apprenticeship. This charge to trust only those who deserve trust becomes quite a challenge as Elodie begins her adventure in the town of Two Castles. A dragon detective, a shape-shifting ogre, a handsome cat trainer, a flighty princess, and a greedy king…these are just some of the characters Elodie must decide are kind, cruel, honest or false. Through this engaging, fairy tale-like mystery, Gail Carson Levine teaches the principle that appearance can be deceiving and friendship is often found in unlikely places. Elodie is a straightforward and strong girl learning to find her place in an unfamiliar world. A Tale of Two Castles is an engaging story that is light enough for a young audience, but interesting enough for adults. Good for independent readers or a read aloud for younger kids....

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The Dark Hills Divide (The Land of Elyon #1), by Patrick Carman
Feb27

The Dark Hills Divide (The Land of Elyon #1), by Patrick Carman

Twelve-year-old Alexa Daley has grown up surrounded by walls, but unlike most villagers she knows, Alexa wants to find a way out. As a protection from the unknown evils of the Dark Hills, a man named Warvold created a series of walled cities connected by walled roads. However, the walls meant to be a protection might have trapped danger inside. When Alexa begins searching for a way outside the wall, she finds adventure and truth that she never knew existed. She finds an enchanted stone that allows her to communicate with animals and gains greater understanding of the world outside. Through these experiences she learns that appearances can be deceiving and trust comes when you are able to see people as they really are. Patrick Carman writes an exciting story for young readers with engaging characters, both human and animal. The mystery of Bridewell and surrounding cities is intriguing and continues on in four other books. The books are perfect for 9-10 year-old-readers and could be good for reading aloud....

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Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech
Feb20

Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech

This is one of my all-time favorites because of the beautiful writing, entertaining characters, and profound life lessons. After her mother leaves, Salamanca Hiddle has a hard time adjusting to life. Her Gram and Gramps take her on a road trip across the country to follow in her mother’s footsteps. As they travel, Sal entertains her grandparents with stories from her previous school year. Current stories are mixed with memories, all full of adventure, humor, and some sadness. During their physical journey as well as their journey through Sal’s stories, Sal and her grandparents learn powerful lessons about themselves and others around them. Sharon Creech creates wonderful characters and dialogue that are entertaining to young readers and adults. I’ve loved reading this one on my own, out loud with my husband, and for a mother / daughter book group with my 9-year-old daughter. It makes me laugh and cry every time....

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