Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen

Random House, August 26, 2014

cover40859-smallGabriel Finley’s life has a big hole in it – the hole left by his father, who went missing  three years ago. Gabriel and his father shared riddles and jokes and a whole lot of love, and then one day Gabriel’s father was simply gone. Though Gabriel loves his aunt, who’s raising him, he’s determined to find his father, even if it means journeying to the fabled city of Aviopolis, which lies directly under Gabriel’s hometown of Brooklyn. But Gabriel can’t do it alone. It’ll take a bunch of friends, some special powers, a lot of clever thinking, and even a few enemies to mount the toughest rescue operation Gabriel could ever imagine.

Many types of middle grade readers will love this book. Animal lovers will be thrilled at the idea of bonding – and flying with – a raven. The riddlers and lovers of word play will enjoy trying to beat Gabriel and his friends to the answers of the many riddles and puns scattered throughout the text. And the adventure seekers? The adventure is first rate, a true hero’s quest with a well drawn parallel world and testing and growth of Gabriel and all of the friends in his group.

Though I was drawn in by the fantasy and word play elements of this story, I especially appreciated Gabriel and the characters Hagen has drawn. I grew very fond of them all. None of these kids would be considered the popular kids at school, and yet they are admirable. We see their many strengths and gain insight into their vulnerabilities. They’re real kids, they make mistakes, deal with reasonable and unreasonable parental expectations, and learn to see beyond facades and trust one another. This would be a great read-aloud at home or in a classroom because the riddles and the depth of the characters provide much fodder for discussion. On the other hand, readers might not be able to wait for the slower pace of daily read-aloud sessions because they’ll be wrapped up in the adventure.

I read this book as an electronic arc courtesy of Random House Children’s Books (Schwartz & Wade) and NetGalley.


The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

Random House Books for Young Readers, August 26, 2014

Ellie’s headed to middle school and life is changing fast. Her best friend Brianna is completely wound up in volleyball team drama, her babysitter’s left for her dream job piercing ears at the mall, and a sulky teenager has moved in – and he just might be Ellie’s grandfather. What is he doing here? And why is he living in the body of a 13-year-old boy?

As Ellie and Melvin, her grandfather, try to straighten out the pieces of his upturned life, Melvin introduces Ellie to some of history’s great scientists: Salk, Curie, Oppenheimer, Newton, and Galileo and ignites in her a new-found interest in science. But as Ellie looks into the lives of the greats, she finds that even a sixth grader can have something important to teach scientists.

This funny and sweet story will appeal to middle grade readers. It’s full of interesting questions about life’s boundaries and life’s possibilities. Holm shows that she understands well the various levels of questions that preoccupy kids at this age, wardrobe woes, the cycle of life, and even ethics. There’s a lot of good information about actual scientists here, too. At times it felt a little teach-y but never enough to discourage reading, and I think that with the right reader the information about important scientists might just inspire further research. The Fourteenth Goldfish would be a great addition to classroom and library collections and a fabulous read aloud for classrooms. I can imagine all sorts of great classroom discussions as a result!

I read this book courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers as an advance reader copy (ARC) through NetGalley. The Fourteenth Goldfish comes out next Tuesday, August 26.

The Tartan Magic Series by Jane Yolen

Book 1: The Wizard’s Map, Harcourt, 1999.

Book 2: The Pictish Child, Harcourt, 1999.

Book 3: The Bagpiper’s Ghost, Harcourt 2002.

When Jennifer, her twin brother Peter, and their family go to Scotland to visit their grandparents they know they’re in for sightseeing and adventure, but magic? They never would have guessed at that. Magic, it seems, is wrapped up in the very fabric of the Scottish town they visit, and Jennifer has a way of bringing it out. In each book Jennifer and Peter encounter a different type of magic: an evil wizard who’s been bound within a map, an ancient child wrapped up in the history of an ancient battle, and ghost, a lady in white who’s searching for her lost love. The magic is as exciting as it is scary and can be raised simply by going for a walk or by playing a game of cards. And the talking animals? It’s anyone’s guess as to whether they’re a help or a hindrance.

These books are the absolute best sort of summer reading. Jennifer and Peter are on an adventure with their family, but their parents conveniently disappear for most of the important bits of the story, leaving the twins to solve their problems on their own. They’ve got a magical advisor in Gram, as she’s a witch, and a little sister to care for, which adds to the tension. There’s just the right amount of information about Scotland and its history to pique your interest and loads of new vocabulary to try (with a glossary in case you can’t quite sort it out from context). Best of all, there are three books in the series, so you’re not disappointed by being finished reading when you’re just getting to know the characters.

These books brought to mind the books of Edward Eager and E. Nesbit. They have the same sort of feeling of adventure, and the children have the same responsibility to set things right. They are more playful and less dark and involved than Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, but something of Jennifer and Peter’s relationship with Gram and their parents brought to my mind Uncle Merry and the characters in Over Sea Under Stone. In fact, Tartan Magic might be a good series to lead up to these others. Though the Scottish words raise the reading level of the text, these middle grade books are short (about 150 pages) and so would be good for reluctant readers or those who might be overwhelmed by a large book. These are great for middle grade summer reading or to add to the stack when the school year starts and 20 minutes of reading a day rules prevail.

Summer Reading Update

I thought you might like an update on my summer reading. As expected, my list has changed and and grown as the summer progresses. I’ve got a widget at the bottom of the page to note progress, but I’ve moved the list to a post for folks who read through email.

(Also for email readers, a couple of posts I was setting up to publish later got sent out by accident. I’ve deleted them from the blog, but you’ll see them in your email again in the coming weeks. Technical difficulties, sorry!)

Spellbound ~Rachel Hawkins
School Spirits ~ Rachel Hawkins
Smoke ~ Ellen Hopkins
Under the Egg ~ Laura Marx Fitzgerald
The Thickety ~J. A. White
Something Strange and Deadly ~ Susan Dennard
Women Heroes of WWI ~ Kathryn J. Atwood
Speak ~ Laurie Halse Anderson
The Tartan Magic Series: The Wizard’s Map, The Pictish Child, The Bagpiper’s Ghost ~ Jane Yolen
The Fourteenth Goldfish ~ Jennifer L. Holm
13 Little Blue Envelopes ~ Maureen Johnson
The Night Gardener ~ Jonathan Auxier

How’s your summer reading coming?