Two Spells by Mark Morrison

51fuRmKahML Twins Sarah and John are off to Wales for the summer to stay with the grandparents they’ve barely met. Almost immediately, even before the family has reached their destination, it’s clear that the area of their mother’s birth isn’t ordinary. A werewolf in the road, a fortress named Two Spells atop a mountain, and a mysteriously dysfunctional GPS that keeps returning them to Two Spells rather than guiding them to their grandparents are merely the beginning of their adventure.

Soon the twins are completely immersed in the world of the magical library—intrigued by the library and the magic within it. Soon enough it is clear that there are forces at work that would destroy the library, and they’re right in the middle of a battle for survival: the library’s and their own.

Mark Morrison’s first book shows that he has a great love of fantasy and magical worlds and a fantastic imagination.

Although I, too, am a fantasy lover, I often found myself disoriented in the complexities of the plot of Two Spells, although your mileage may vary. I also wished that Sarah had a little more agency and a little less help from adults and magical creatures in the resolution.

Though the author puts this book at a young adult level, I’d put it at a middle grade level, as Sarah and Jon seem young for a true young adult book.

The author sent me a copy of the book in hopes of receiving a review.

 

One Good Thing About America by Ruth Freeman

One Good Thing About AmericaHoliday House, 2017.

When Anaïs comes to America, things are very different from her life back home in Congo. Her family is split up, people don’t speak in French, and the food is very strange. But Anaïs’s grandmother asked her to write letters in English and to include in each letter one good thing about America, and Anaïs is determined to keep her promise.

Starting on the first day of fourth grade, Anaïs writes often to Oma. At first, writing in English is hard, and finding good things to say about America is even harder. Sometimes worries about her Papa, her brother Olivier, and Oma overshadow the good things that are beginning to happen for Anaïs. But over time, Anaïs begins to make friends, build a community, and find many good things about America.

Told in compelling letters from Anaïs to her grandmother, One Good Thing About America is an important book for children to read today. Though Ruth Freeman is not herself an immigrant, her work as a teacher of English Language Learners in Maine has helped her to put her finger on the pulse of child immigrants in America today, and her compassion has allowed her to show the complexity of immigrating to a country in which the language, the customs, and the expectations are all completely unknown. The story includes not only Anaïs’s experiences, but also some insight into immigrants from Iraq, Somalia, and Libya. In my opinion, Freeman soft pedals the frictions and misunderstandings that are likely to occur between children in school, perhaps equally in service to other elements of the story and in order to keep the focus on the many other challenges immigrants must face. For me, this decision works and makes One Good Thing About America a hopeful and heartwarming read.

I’d recommend this novel as a classroom or bedtime read-aloud or for students to read on their own. This debut novel will provoke great discussions between parents and children, teachers and students, and (dare I hope?) politicians and constituents.

I received an advance reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Want to Read Wednesday

I review a fair number of books, aiming for one middle grade or young adult book review a week. I also read reviews others write and keep my Goodreads Want to Read list well populated. I’m always interested in the books that are getting some buzz, even if I don’t have the time to read them just yet, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share some of the books that make it onto my Want to Read list each week.

Here’s my list for this past week:

5-elements-the-emerald-tablet

Five Elements: The Emerald Tablet by Dan Jolley

Magic is good. I’d love to read a new middle grade book that portrays elemental magic well. Plus, a great new series is reading for today and for the future, too.

The tip off came from: Ugh, I’ve lost track of this one…will update if I find it.

 

grudging

Grudging: Birth of Saints Book One by Michelle Hauck

This is an adult historical fantasy. Witches, chivalry, medieval world… might certainly appeal to young adult readers and it’s another series.

The tip off came from: A writing contest on Michelle’s page: Michelle4Laughs.com

 

one-for-sorrow One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

A ghost story set during the influenza epidemic of 1918. My grandfather nearly died in boot camp of the Spanish influenza and his condition after left him ineligeable to serve in the military, so I’m curious. Plus ghosts!

The tip off came from: NetGalley.com

 

scythe

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

The review got me on this one: reluctant reader eating it up, important and complex moral questions, compelling main characters. Young Adult. Plus, series!

The tip-off came from: The Winged Pen Blog

 

march-against-fearThe March Against Fear by Ann Bausum

Important from a historical perspective and relevant to today. Definitely looking forward to cracking this one open and deepening my understanding of the relationship between the Civil Rights movement and the Black Power movement. Young Adult.

The tip-off came from: Teen Librarian Toolbox

Which books caught your attention this week? Leave a comment below.

Want to connect on Goodreads? Sarah Monsma on Goodreads

 

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbit

cloud-and-wallfishCandlewick Press, 2016.

It’s an ordinary day of sixth grade for Noah Keller until his parents pick him up from school. Then, suddenly everything in his life turns on its ear. He learns that his name is not really Noah Keller, he’s not eleven yet, and their normal American life is being replaced by an extraordinary new life behind the wall in East Germany.

Communication is tricky in his new home, and strangely enough that has very little to do with Noah, now Jonah’s Astonishing Stutter. In East Germany, Noah must speak German, he has not been given permission to go to school, and perhaps most importantly he must follow his parents rules about what he may say or ask and where. It’s a lonely and confusing new world. But when Jonah meets Cloud-Claudia who lives downstairs with her grandmother, his world becomes a lot less lonely but quite a bit more interesting, confusing, and even dangerous.

Cloud and Wallfish is a masterful telling of the tale of East Germany immediately before the demise of the Berlin Wall. Though at first I bristled at Noah-Jonah’s attitude toward him as they upended his life to take him behind the iron curtain, how could they do it without an explanation? How could they be so darned cheerful about it? I soon was drawn into the story and began to trust the kindness and good nature of the parents, and unlike Noah-Jonah, I remained frustrated at the many things they wouldn’t divulge to him.

Anne Nesbit’s writing is unique and appealing as in this passage when the American family is sitting down to dinner with Jonah’s friend from the downstairs apartment. “It was the longest group of words any of them had ever heard Cloud-Claudia say. They all tried not to gape at her. There was a lot of friendly staring at spoons.”

I will want to read Cloud and Wallfish again. It’s a wonderful book to help children today understand the end of the era of the Cold War, but it is also simply a good story about the complexities of relationships, friendships, governments, and life. Highly recommended for schools, libraries, and homes.

I received an advance reader copy of  Cloud and Wallfish from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.