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1. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 4: Magic in the Mix + Nest + The Night Gardener

getting ready for book club -- each week, I took notes
What draws us into great stories? Is it the chance to see a glimpse of ourselves in other people? Is it getting lost in another world, so far from our own? Or maybe it's getting swept away by an exciting plot, full of suspense and danger. As we met each week, I loved listening to my students recommending books to one another each week during our book club lunches, hearing what they loved and what captured their interest.
Magic in the Mix
by Annie Barrows
Bloomsbury, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Many kids are drawn to stories with characters that inspire them because of their courage and bravery. Molly and Miri return from The Magic Half, but they are the only ones in their family who know that they haven't always been twin sisters. Molly and Miri's brothers always annoy them, but when the brothers stumble through the time portal that Molly and Miri have opened, the twin sisters know that it's up to them to rescue their brothers.

Our 4th and 5th graders all commented about how much they could imagine these characters, how the story pulled them through, and how they liked the mix of time-travel fantasy and historical fiction.
"I liked learning a little bit about the Civil War, but not too much."
"I could really see Molly and Miri and how brave they were helping their brothers."
"When they were scared, walking through the forest, I could feel like I was right there."
In the end, Magic in the Mix was read and enjoyed by many students (our two copies have circulated 25 times already!), but it didn't rise to the top of many final voting lists.
Nest
by Esther Ehrlich
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
Eleven-year-old Naomi "Chirp" Orenstein is devoted to her mother, but life starts to fall apart when Chirp's mother is hospitalized for depression. When I first read Nest, I wasn't sure if it was right for an elementary school library, but several of my early readers were adamant that it was an amazing book that should be in our library. Angel and Corina wrote in their nomination,
"It's not a happily ever book, but it shows how much a girl and her family care and love each other after various tragedies.They may not end up with a perfect life but I found it was even better that way."
Nest is suited for students who like heartfelt stories that linger with you. Some students who like realistic fiction could tell that it was too sad, and stopped reading. Speaking with middle school librarians, it's finding a wider audience there. This is definitely a story that makes readers think long after they've turned the last page. What I loved about my students' reactions is how much they related to Chirp's inner strength as she copes with her mother's illness.
The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier
Amulet / Abrams, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
Students who read The Night Gardener held it up as an example for masterful plot, setting and character development. "I could see how the tree was built right into the house," said Amelie. "I really imagine the house, seeing how it was old now, but also how it used to be." The setting was integral to creating the frightening tone for the story, especially the suspense that kept students reading. Kaiyah specifically mentioned that she felt right in the forest when Molly and Kip were in their wagon heading toward the Windsor's estate.
friends discussing books for Emerson's Mock Newbery
It's interesting -- I think both The Night Gardener and Nest might be seen as "more appropriate" for middle school students, but are ones that my students advocated strongly for including in our library. They are both emotionally intense stories, but I've found that students will stop reading them if they aren't ready for them. Both have depths in their treatment of different themes that I would love to talk more about with small groups, and both would stand up well to rereading. I was very happy to see both of these excellent books part of our discussion.

The review copies came from my home collection and our library collection. Early review copies were also kindly sent by the publishers, Abrams and Bloomsbury. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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2. Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway by Steve Watkins

When Anderson, 12, and his friend Greg decided to start a band, they were given permission to practice in a basement room at his Uncle Dex's junkshop, provided they clear it out themselves.  Alone in the room, Anderson notices an old military trunk with a strange glow to it.  He finds an old Navy peacoat in it that he decides to keep.  Inside the coat pocket, is an old letter and when he pulls it out, he hears a voice saying "that's mine."

Later that night, the voice materializes in Anderson's bedroom.  It belongs to a young World War II sailor who doesn't seem to remember who he is or what happened to him and has been living in a kind of limbo since the war. Anderson is understandably freaked.

The next day, while discussing with Greg the possibility of adding keyboard player Julie Kobayashi to the band, Anderson's ghost appears in the cafeteria.  And it seems that Greg and Julie can both see him.  Pretty soon, the trio decides to help their ghost find out about himself.  Anderson tracks down the recipient of the old letter he found in the peacoat.  It turns out to be an old girlfriend, Betty Corbett,  who tells them their ghost is named William Foxwell, that he went missing in action on a ship in the Pacific Ocean and presumed dead.  Later, she married William's friend and they named their son after him.

One helpful clue about William is the mention of the Battle of the Coral Sea in his letter.  Anderson and his Uncle Dex both are history buffs, and Uncle Dex knows all about this battle.  Little by little, Anderson, Greg and Julie begin to piece together that particulars of William's life in the Navy, and as they do, William begins to remember things as well.

All of this is taking time and it seems that William is having a harder and harder time materializing and is, in fact, beginning to fade away again.  Then, matters get more complicated when a Japanese sailor who has been keeping a secret about William and the Battle of Midway for 70 years refuses to tell them what really happened.

Will Anderson, Greg and Julie be able to solve the mystery surrounding William's death in time for him to find eternal peace?

Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway is a short but exciting mystery, one that will definitely appeal to boys as well as girls.  The mystery is historically based, so there is lots of information about the two battles mentioned and what being caught in the middle of war is really like.  But we also see how the war impacted everyone, including those like Betty Corbett on the home front.

Besides William's story, we also learn about Anderson and Greg's life, but not so much about Julie's yet.  Anderson's mother suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and is often in pain and tired.  His dad works long hours and Anderson frequently comes home and makes his mom some dinner.  Greg's dad is a binge alcoholic with a short temper.  When things get bad, Greg sneaks out of the house and stays with Anderson.

And, of course, because they are sixth-graders in a junior high school, there are bullies to contend with. All of this makes for a well rounded story and gives depth to the characters, who, I assume, we will get to know better and better.  Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway is the first in a series of books, and yes, you guessed it, they all begin with the mysterious glowing military trunk.

This is a great book for kids who like history, especially military history, but even if history isn't their thing, it's still an exciting read.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic

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3. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 2: The Crossover + Dash + The Fourteenth Goldfish

Our students have had passionate, thoughtful conversations all year, recommending books to one another, considering which book they liked and why it resonated with them. Throughout, we talked about the key components of literature and storytelling: character development, plot and pacing, setting, language and themes.

Ever since I first shared Kwame Alexander's The Crossover with Emerson students, it was clear that this book spoke to our students in a unique way. It's been fascinating listening to kids talk about why.

The Crossover
by Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-14
From the very first page, the language of The Crossover pulls young readers right into the rhythm and feelings of a fast-moving basketball game. Just look at the opening lines and you can see the combination of basketball terms, rhythm and rhyme, and downright attitude.
"At the top of the key, I'm
              MOVING AND GROOVING,
POPping and ROCKING--
Why you BUMPING?
              Why you LOCKING?
Man, take this THUMPING,
Be careful though,
'cause now I'm CRUNKING"
As Norah said, "It's not quite rhyming, but it's almost like rap, like a song." Mahari added that he likes the form of poetry: "It made it more interesting for me as a reader. The language conveyed the character's feelings." Norah added that it isn't just printed normal on the page. Kids really noticed that the way the words are arranged enhanced the way language conveyed both character's feelings and the author's message.

Other students commented on the character development in The Crossover. Maddy said that she "felt like she was there with the characters at every move" (that word choice seemed so appropriate to me, since there's so much movement in this story). Kids could really see twin brothers Josh & J.B. as distinct characters and relate to the tension between them. Madeline added that she felt their father was a very detailed character, because Alexander showed how much he loved basketball but how he also really loved his family.

I asked students if they felt that they could see what was coming (in other words, was the plot too obvious?), and they really felt like they were right there with the characters. While some might have had an idea of the foreshadowing, they really didn't notice the signs that the mother was concerned about the father's health -- certainly not the way adult readers would notice.

Several students commented on how The Crossover made them think a little more about what they were reading. They liked how the titles of the poems related to the themes and the plot--giving them a sense and focus. Several other students talked about how they had to take a second, reread a passage and ask what the author was really saying. I think this attests to Alexander's nuanced, layered language.

Historical fiction often draws the attention of the Newbery committee, and I was happy to see students respond so passionately to Kirby Larson's story about Japanese internment during World War II. "Dash is one of the best books I have ever read!"
Dash
by Kirby Larson
Scholastic, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Here's Abby's recommendation from early September: "If you like dogs a lot, you'd probably love it. If you like books with hardship and struggle, you'll probably like it. It's also heartfelt, with a lot of love. Every single chapter keeps you hanging." She passionately shared this book all year long.

Right from the beginning, young readers relate to how alone Mitsi feels when her friends start avoiding her -- all because of something that happened in a war far, far away. Larson creates a unique, distinctive character, but focuses on elements that many readers can relate to. Just as I write that sense, I realize what a tricky balance that is!
"The author describes Mitsi's emotions so well, her love of being an artists and her talents and passion. She brings out who she is and who she wants to be. I could imagine what she looks like and what she's feeling at the moment."
Abby said, "The setting and details of the characters and their experiences were amazing. I could picture it like a movie in my mind---they should make a movie of it!" I would agree with Abby, especially noting the way I could picture the different camps in my mind and how the harsh conditions made life so much more difficult for Mitsi's family.
Mitsi Shiraishi and her beloved dog, Chubby -- inspirations for Dash
I was particularly moved reading in Kirby Larson's blog this letter from Louise Kashino, who endured experiences similar to Mitsi's:
I read DASH and poured over every sentence inasmuch as I was 16 when we were incarcerated on May, 1942. My family was assigned to Area D inside the Puyallup Fairgrounds, where our barrack among others was built inside the racing grounds. I don't know who guided you through the whole incarceration, but you did an excellent job of describing the experiences for someone like me. I also relocated to Chicago and eventually returned to Seattle, so again, your description of the whole movement brought back many memories. Thank you for your accurate descriptions of our experience to give the general public an insight into what we experienced during our incarceration.
We had a rousing discussion about The Fourteenth Goldfish, with students arguing on both sides of the fence. It had real supporters and others who just weren't drawn into it.
The Fourteenth Goldfish
by Jennifer L. Holm
Random House, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Overall, my students loved Jennifer Holm's blend of realistic relationships, humor and science with a touch of fantasy. Maisy said, "It's a really good book because it has lots of science, but not too much so you can't understand it." I am impressed with how well Holm understands her audience, adding in just enough layering of science to introduce students to the history of science and scientific thinking without overwhelming young readers.

Some students really enjoyed the fantasy elements. Talia noted that it reminded her of Tuck Everlasting. But other students found it a little confusing, especially at the beginning when Ellie is figuring out that this teenager is actually her grandfather.

I would actually venture to guess that the students who liked it were drawn in by the themes of the story -- the idea that you can figure out a solution, that things are possible if you work at a creative solution, and the idea that grandparents and grandchildren actually have a lot more in common if they could only discover a little more about each other as real people.

The review copies came from my home collection and our library collection and our classroom collections. Early review copies were also kindly sent by the publishers: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scholastic, and Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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4. December 2014 Sketchbook

Manelle Oliphant Illustration - Illustrator and Writer

At the beginning of December I wrote this post about sketchbook inspiration.  In December I committed to draw a sketch every day, and I sketched with a theme. This is me checking in to tell you how it went.

December Sketchbook Favorites

December Sketchbook Favorites

First of all I have to give a shoutout to my friends Jen and Shawna. They were my accountability partners for this project. We texted or email every day to make sure we were all sketching. This was really helpful for me. I hope it was for them as well. If you take on a project like this I recommend getting some friends involved to keep you on track.

I picked the theme fantasy land creatures and wanted to work on my gestures and expressions. I also ended up making some of my sketches into watercolors. It was a fun way to practice keeping my watercolors loose and free. I goal I also had when I was making my Six Swans illustration. 

Mostly though, I just kept to old fashion sketching. The image above has a few of my favorite sketches from the month.

I put all of my December sketches plus a few bonus images which fit the theme into a downloadable 15 page PDF. It’s $1.99 to download in my store. If you are one of my patrons you can download it for free by following this link. Just a small way for me to say thanks for your support.

December 2014 Sketchbook Cover

Dragon walk and Napping Fawn are some of the watercolors I did during the month. They are available as a prints. If you’d like to hang one on your wall you can order one by clicking on the image.

napping-fawn-print dragon-walk-print

Overall I think the project was a success.

 

The post December 2014 Sketchbook appeared first on Manelle Oliphant Illustration.

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5. Another Series That Ends Well

I got the last Skulduggery Pleasant book, The Dying of the Light by Derek Landy, in from England a few months ago. I didn't rush to read it, because I'd found the last few Skulduggeries a little slow and long. Not this one. This one moved along, I kept wanting to find more time to read it, and I would have been happy to have read still another book about the bony one.

The last few books, including this one, jumped around with points of view. With the other books, I felt that slowed everything. With this one, not so much. I began to feel with this book that when you're using multiple points of view in a book, the book may not be one person's story as much as it is the story of some kind of event in which many people have a point. That was a bit of what was going on here. Instead of being just Valkyrie Cain's story (these books have never really been about Skulduggery Pleasant), The Dying of the Light is the story of how a group of magical folk battle the seemingly unbeatable Darquesse. Valkyrie is a significant part of that, but it's not just her, which is why the point of view switches seemed workable.

Two particularly interesting bits:
  • Every now and then, the scene in Dying of the Light switches to what appears to be a totally different story involving an unnamed Irish woman in the U.S., a mortal, and a couple of evil types we know from an earlier book. Oh, and a dog. We're not even sure who the woman is until the end. This is the kind of thing that I would usually become very impatient with. I loved it. Who is she? What's going on here? And when?
  • Unlike many fantasy authors, Landy addresses the issue of Christianity. As in, if there is a magical world with gods, as there is in the Skulduggery Pleasant universe (most are insane and Valkyrie has punched one), what about the Judeo-Christian concept of God? I've wondered about that with, say, the Percy Jackson books. If the Greek gods are real, does that mean Baby Jesus isn't? In The Dying of the Light that issue is discussed. "Is there a God?" Valkyrie's mother asks Skulduggery. And her uncle says, "My wife and I go to mass every Sunday...Don't you sit there and tell me there's no God." And Skulduggery doesn't. He just can't tell him that there is.
So, great stuff in this book, which I'll be passing on to my niece. Sigh. We've finished our series. What's next for us?

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6. It's Monday + Weekend Round Up


I believe this Martin Luther King Jr. quote is as true for the inside of ourselves as it is for the outside to others. We must drive out the darkness within our minds, and love ourselves. Thank you Dr. King for so many inspiring words and faith.

This past weekend was a whirl wind of a time! We did so much, that by Sunday I was tired enough to sleep through Norah waking up from her nap. Who knows how long she was in her crib playing before she finally started to let me know she wasn't happy there. I find these are the times I learn the most about myself, because they are also when I'm my weakest, most vulnerable, and busiest. Do you ever have weekends like that?

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It's a new week though, with new thoughts, new perspectives, and new schedules! I have discovered that every week is different with my schedule, time to  E • M • B • R • A • C • E  it! 



I tried something new this morning, I tried some meditative prayer. Like most women, my mind is always moving. Surprisingly it stayed pretty clear, and I think I caught myself drifting to sleep a couple of times (sitting up in the studio). Since then I've been very calm, and I knew I needed to get it down on paper, so I began this drawing. I look forward to working on her throughout the week during these times of peace every morning.

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After that first nap I give Norah all of my attention. We played around and got to ride on the dragon in the studio. It's so special to have her in the studio with me, even if I'm not working. I remember spending many days and nights in my dad's studio, and I wish the same for her.


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I struggled with my daily sketches these last few days. To find the joy and the motivation to draw when so drained is like pulling teeth for me. I feel like Tinkerbell, only able to handle one emotion at a time, except it's more than just emotions, but actions too. I did it, and I'm proud of myself for getting them done. It's okay to not be elaborate, or detailed, or whatever else I think I HAVE to be. Sometimes, just a simple sketch is all there needs to be.



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7. The Darkest Part of the Forest: Review

This book. I love this book. That is the review. That is all. But, really. I was fairly sure I would love this book going in just because it was by Holly Black and it was about faeries. Holly Black will always hold a special place in my heart because Tithe was one of the first YA books I got really, really into. It was the first book I read that had girls who weren’t always (or even often) likable, gay characters, and faeries that were actually like, well, faeries. Her faerie books ruined me for all other faerie books because they were so perfect and dark and good. The Darkest Part of the Forest did not disappoint. It was all the best parts of her writing—dark, beautiful world-building straight out of a fairytale, interesting and flawed characters, and a plot that blended the magical and the reality perfectly. It... Read more »

The post The Darkest Part of the Forest: Review appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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8. Review Round Up

I'm behind in reviews, so I'm doing a few round ups of titles -- better a couple paragraphs than nothing!

Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper. Little, Brown. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

Salt and Storm is set in an alternate 1860s, where witches and magic are real. Avery is the granddaughter of the witch of Prince Island, and should have been trained and raised to be the next witch. Except, her mother -- who refuses to have anything to do with magic or witchcraft -- drags Avery away from her grandmother and forbids her to see her. At sixteen, Avery is trying to escape her mother's control and claim her inheritance.

What I liked most about Salt and Storm is that Avery wasn't aware of the full picture. She knew what she knew, believed she had the full picture, believe she knew the real story about the witches of Prince Island. She thought she knew herself, but it turns out things aren't what she thinks they are. Which means what she wants isn't what she thinks it is. I also like the historical information in here, about life on nineteenth century islands.

The Raven Cycle #3: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic, 2014. Review copy from publisher. Sequel to The Raven Boys (Book 1) and The Dream Thieves (Book 2).

This continues the story of the search in Virginia for a missing Welsh king. The searchers are prep school students Richard Gansey III (the driving force behind the search), his friends Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch, and Noah Czerny, and local girl Blue Sargent.

By the events of Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I'm not going to lie: it's complicated. There are a mess of characters, plus the search, plus the issues that the characters are dealing with in the present. Gansey is driven by his search; Ronan discovered dangerous family secrets, including his own ability to pull things out of dreams into the real world; Adam is a scholarship student with the drive for more and a serious, well earned chip on his shoulder. Noah has his own issues.

And Blue: Blue is from a family of psychics, without any real power herself, and with a curse upon her: her kiss will kill her true love. And since she's falling hard for Gansey, and since one of her aunts foresaw Gansey's death, it's, well, messy. Like life. Now take life and add in magic and history, myth and legend.

Readers know that I like when teen books have interesting adult characters: well, this has them and then some. The enigmatic Mr. Gray -- I mean, how often is a hired killer so sympathetic and likable? (And yes, I keep picturing him as Norman Reedus). Blue's mother has disappeared, but this allows other adults to move center. And Mr. Gray's boss also enters into the picture. It's not just magic and myth that is a danger.

The only frustration with Blue Lily, Lily Blue is there is still one more book in the series. So while the adventure moves forward, and questions are answered, there's still so much more to find out!


The Iron Trial (Book One of Magisterium) by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Scholastic. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Iron Trial starts a series set in the modern world, where magic is real -- but hidden. Twelve-year-old Callum's father has done everything possible to keep Callum away from this world. Call is supposed to do everything possible to fail his entrance tests to the Magisterium, a school of magic hidden in the United States. Instead, Call finds himself in the Magisterium, studying magic, and finding out his father hasn't been totally honest with him. Magic isn't the big, dangerous, evil he's been told about.

Most of this book is the "forming" part of an adventure story: Call discovering the truth about magic, that it's not a simple matter of good or evil, and Call forging friendships and allies (and sometimes enemies and frenemies) with his fellow students. He also has to study magic, and it's not all fun and games -- it's also hard work. (And, well, fun. Because magic!)

Part of what Call learns about are some epic battles from over ten years before, including those who fought on the good side and the bad side. (Magic is neither good nor bad, but those who practice it -- they fall on those two sides.) Call is sometimes frustratingly ignorant about magic and his own family's connection to it, but it works for the book -- the reader learns as Call learns.

The ending of the book -- oh, the ending! Personally, I felt as if the story was just truly beginning with the ending, and that the real story will be next year, now that the reader, and Call, has the full knowledge of what is going on. Or do we know as much as we think?



















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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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9. Cinderella’s Prince

Manelle Oliphant Illustration - Illustrator and Writer

Cinderella’s Prince

A Short Fairy Tale Retelling

By Manelle Oliphant

Download this story free by clicking here.

The rolling motion of the carriage stops and I jerk awake. My neck hurts. I rub it with my hand and look out the window.  The next house on our list is grand and grey, much like the last one. How did the fashion of grey start among the upper classes of my kingdom? Grey is a boring color.

Servants bustle outside my door, and it opens. I step into the sun and take the box Buffins holds toward me. It’s also grey. I’m as bored of it as I am of the houses. I sigh. I must have been a little drunk or be-spelled when I declared I’d marry the girl who’s foot fit the shoe now nestled inside. It was a stupid idea.

I thought about the ball, where I’d met the nicest, most beautiful, funny girl ever, and my slapdash decree at it’s end. When I’d come to my senses the next morning I despaired of ever seeing her again. Feet don’t come in all that many sizes after all. I assumed I’d be engaged within the week to some random noble daughter. Now, three months later the shoe hasn’t even slipped over a toe. That’s how I know it’s magic. When I first realized this I felt hopeful, but now I imagine I’ll be trying shoes on smelly dainty feet for the rest of my life.

My servants knock. Their servants answer. We are announced and shown into a flamboyant room with three ladies inside. They curtsey. The mother makes simpering small talk as she shows me to my seat. “You are so noble. We are honored. We hope your journey has been comfortable. Would you like tea?” Etc etc.

I’ve heard it all before but this time I’m hungry, so I accept the offer of tea. I imagine her lauding it over her neighbors later. “The prince took tea at my house and said is was ever so refreshing. He didn’t take tea at your house. Oh dear, how unfortunate for you. We can’t all be so lucky, I suppose.”

I sit in an overstuffed chair.  Two young ladies sit on a couch across from me. I try not to cringe when I see them. There is a possibility they are pretty but it’s hard to tell with all the face paint they wear. I paste a smile on my face. “Which one of your lovely daughters will be first?”

Cinderella's Prince: Personal Project: Watercolor & Ink

Cinderella’s Prince: Personal Project: Watercolor & Ink

Each girl giggles and sticks out a left foot. They strain to get closer to me in hopes of being first. I try not to laugh as one falls off her chair onto her giant bustle.  I kneel before the girl still seated, ignore the aroma of sour foot, and try the shoe. As usual it won’t even slide over her toes. I hold the shoe while she tries to get her foot in from every direction but I know it won’t do any good. When she has exhausted herself I turn to her sister. She is back in her seat pretending nothing untoward happened. She tries her foot in the shoe. After a brief struggle she goes so far as to take the shoe from me to try it her self. I have to wrestle the shoe away.

The first sister squirms in her seat. “Let me try it again, she got a longer turn.”

I look at her but don’t respond as I place the shoe back in the box, and hand it to Buffins.  I’m so tired. I sigh as I sit. These are the least well-mannered girls I’ve met. I wish I’d waited to accept an offer of tea.

A maid enters the room carrying a tray. She sets it on the table next to me. The tea’s smell mixes with the ladies perfume and I feel a little lightheaded. The servant doesn’t leave but stands close behind my shoulder and I feel her staring at me. Even the servants in this house are ill mannered.

The lady of the house waves her hand at the girl. “That will be all, Ella.”

I hear her curtsy. “Yes,  My Lady.”

Her voice. I’ve heard it before. My heart beats faster. I turn but her back is to me and she is almost out the door.

I stand. “Wait.”

She turns around. I want to squeal with excitement like my younger sister does. It’s her, blue eyes, dimples, and a laughing smile. Granted she’s dirty, her hair is covered and her dress is patched, but it is her.

I can’t help staring at her as I speak. “This Lady must try the shoe as well.”

The room is silent. I look around. The lady and her daughters sit with their mouths open. My servants stand unmoving. I motion at Buffins to bring the box forward. “I said this lady must try the shoe.”

He blinks at me. “Your Highness, I… we…”

I scowl at him. “Buffins.”

He stops stammering and hands me the box. I take the servant girl’s rough hand and lead her to the sofa. It’s the same hand I held at the ball. Of course it belongs to a servant. Why did I not realize?

I kneel and remove her left boot. The shoe glides over her foot.

I take her hand. “I knew it was you when I heard your voice.”

“I’m glad, your highness, for if you hadn’t I would’ve let you wander the world with that shoe. It just so happens I have the other one right here”

From her apron pocket she takes the matching shoe. When she puts it on there is a puff of smoke. The dirt and rags disappear. Now she, Ella, sits all clean in an elegant day dress, with her hair arranged in a stylish way.

I take her hands and pull her into my arms.  “Ella, will you marry me?”

She smiles. “Of course.”

I give her smile a kiss. Something, I admit, I’ve wanted to do since the first moment I saw her in the ballroom.  The awful daughters gasp and Buffins’ cries in protest but I ignore them all. I’m going to live happily ever after.

The End

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10. Review of the Day: Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

Cuckoo Song
By Frances Hardinge
Amulet Books (an imprint of Abrams)
$17.95
ISBN: 978-1419714801
Ages 10 and up
On shelves May 12, 2015

I was watching the third Hobbit movie the other day (bear with me – I’m going somewhere with this) with no particular pleasure. There are few things in life more painful to a children’s librarian than watching an enjoyable adventure for kids lengthened and turned into adult-centric fare, then sliced up into three sections. Still, it’s always interesting to see how filmmakers wish to adapt material and as I sat there, only moderately stultified, the so-called “Battle of the Five Armies” (which, in this film, could be renamed “The Battle of the Thirteen Odd Armies, Give Or Take a Few) comes to a head as the glorious eagles swoop in. “They’re the Americans”, my husband noted. It took a minute for this to register. “What?” “They’re the Americans. Tolkien wrote this book after WWI and the eagles are the Yanks that swoop in to save the day at the very last minute.” I sat there thinking about it. England has always had far closer ties to The Great War than America, it’s true. I remember sitting in school, baffled by the vague version I was fed. American children are taught primarily Revolutionary War, Civil War, and WWII fare. All other conflicts are of seemingly equal non-importance after those big three. Yet with the 100 year anniversary of the war to end all wars, the English, who had a much larger role to play, are, like Tolkien, still producing innovative, evocative, unbelievable takes that utilize fantasy to help us understand it. And few books do a better job of pinpointing the post traumatic stress syndrome of a post-WWI nation than Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song. They will tell you that it’s a creepy doll book with changelings and fairies and things that go bump in the night. It is all of that. It is also one of the smartest dissections of what happens when a war is done and the survivors are left to put their lives back together. Some do a good job. Some do not.

Eleven-year-old Triss is not well. She knows this, but as with many illnesses she’s having a hard time pinpointing what exactly is wrong. It probably had to do with the fact that she was fished out of the Grimmer, a body of water near the old stone house where her family likes to vacation. Still, that doesn’t explain why her sister is suddenly acting angry and afraid of her. It doesn’t explain why she’s suddenly voracious, devouring plate after plate of food in a kind of half mad frenzy. And it doesn’t explain some of the odder things that have been happening lately either. The dolls that don’t just talk but scream too. The fact that she’s waking up with dead leaves in her hair and bed. And that’s all before her sister is nearly kidnapped by a movie screen, a tailor tries to burn her alive, and she discovers a world within her world where things are topsy turvy and she doesn’t even know who she is anymore. Triss isn’t the girl she once was. And time is running out.

From that description you’d be justified in wondering why I spent the better half of the opening paragraph of this review discussing WWI. After all, there is nothing particularly war-like in that summary. It would behoove me to me mention then that all this takes place a year or two after the war. Triss’s older brother died in the conflict, leaving his family to pick up the pieces. Like all parents, his are devastated by their loss. Unlike all parents, they make a terrible choice to keep him from leaving them entirely. It’s the parents’ grief and choices that then become the focal point of the book. The nation is experiencing a period of vast change. New buildings, new music, and new ideas are proliferating. Yet for Triss’s parents, it is vastly important that nothing change. They’re the people that would prefer to live in an intolerable but familiar situation rather than a tolerable unknown. Their love is a toxic thing, harming their children in the most insidious of ways. It takes an outsider to see this and to tell them what they are doing. By the end, it’s entirely possible that they’ll stay stuck until events force them otherwise. Then again, Hardinge leaves you with a glimmer of hope. The nation did heal. People did learn. And while there was another tragic war on the horizon, that was a problem for another day.

So what’s all that have to do with fairies? In a smart twist Hardinge makes a nation bereaved become the perfect breeding ground for fairy (though she never calls them that) immigration. It’s interesting to think long and hard about what it is that Hardinge is saying, precisely, about immigrants in England. Indeed, the book wrestles with the metaphor. These are creatures that have lost their homes thanks to the encroachment of humanity. Are they not entitled to lives of their own? Yet some of them do harm to the residents of the towns. But do all of them? Should we paint them all with the same brush if some of them are harmful? These are serious questions worth asking. Xenophobia comes in the form of the tailor Mr. Grace. His smooth sharp scissors cause Triss to equate him with the Scissor Man from the Struwwelpeter tales of old. Having suffered a personal loss at the hands of the otherworldly immigrants he dedicates himself to a kind of blind intolerance. He’s sympathetic, but only up to a point.

Terms I Dislike: Urban Fairies. I don’t particularly dislike the fairies themselves. Not if they’re done well. I should clarify that the term “urban fairies” is used when discussing books in which fairies reside in urban environments. Gargoyles in the gutters. That sort of thing. And if we’re going to get technical about it then yes, Cuckoo Song is an urban fairy book. The ultimate urban fairy book, really. Called “Besiders” their presence in cities is attributed to the fact that they are creatures that exist only where there is no certainty. In the past the sound of church bells proved painful, maybe fatal. However, in the years following The Great War the certainty of religion began to ebb from the English people. Religion didn’t have the standing it once held in their lives/hearts/minds, and so thanks to this uncertainty the Besiders were able to move into places in the city made just for them. You could have long, interesting book group conversations about the true implications of this vision.

There are two kinds of Frances Hardinge novels in this world. There are the ones that deal in familiar mythologies but give them a distinctive spin. That’s this book. Then there are the books that make up their own mythologies and go into such vastly strange areas that it takes a leap of faith to follow, though it’s worth it every time. That’s books like The Lost Conspiracy or Fly By Night and its sequel. Previously Ms. Hardinge wrote Well Witched which was a lovely fantasy but felt tamed in some strange way. As if she was asked to reign in her love of the fabulous so as to create a more standard work of fantasy. I was worried that Cuckoo Song might fall into this same trap but happily this is not the case. What we see on the page here is marvelously odd while still working within an understood framework. I wouldn’t change a dot on an i or a cross on a t.

Story aside, it is Hardinge’s writing that inevitably hooks the reader. She has a way with language that sounds like no one else. Here’s a sentence from the first paragraph of the book: “Somebody had taken a laugh, crumpled it into a great, crackly ball, and stuffed her skull with it.” Beautiful. Line after line after line jumps out at the reader this way. One of my favorites is when a fellow called The Shrike explains why scissors are the true enemy of the Besiders. “A knife is made with a hundred tasks in mind . . . But scissors are really intended for one job alone – snipping things in two. Dividing by force. Everything on one side or the other, and nothing in between. Certainty. We’re in-between folk, so scissors hate us.” If I had half a mind to I’d just spend the rest of this review quoting line after line of this book. For your sake, I’ll restrain myself. Just this once.

When this book was released in England it was published as older children’s fare, albeit with a rather YA cover. Here in the States it is being published as YA fare with a rather creepy cover. Having read it, there really isn’t anything about the book I wouldn’t readily hand to a 10-year-old. Is there blood? Nope. Violence? Not unless you count eating dollies. Anything remarkably creepy? Well, there is a memory of a baby changeling that’s kind of gross, but I don’t think you’re going to see too many people freaking out over it. Sadly I think the decision was made, in spite of its 11-year-old protagonist, because Hardinge is such a mellifluous writer. Perhaps there was a thought to appeal to the Laini Taylor fans out there. Like Taylor she delves in strange otherworlds and writes with a distinctive purr. Unlike Taylor, Hardinge is British to her core. There are things here that you cannot find anywhere else. Her brain is a country of fabulous mini-states and we’ll be lucky if we get to see even half of them in our lifetimes.

There was a time when Frances Hardinge books were imported to America on a regular basis. For whatever reason, that stopped. Now a great wrong has been righted and if there were any justice in this world her Yankee fans would line the ports waiting for her books to arrive, much as they did in the time of Charles Dickens. That she can take an event like WWI and the sheer weight of the grief that followed, then transform it into dark, creepy, delicious, satisfying children’s fare is awe-inspiring. You will find no other author who dares to go so deep. Those of you who have never read a Hardinge book, I envy you. You’re going to be discovering her for the very first time, so I hope you savor every bloody, bleeding word. Taste the sentences on your tongue. Let them melt there. Then pick up your forks and demand more more more. There are other Hardinge books in England we have yet to see stateside. Let our publishers fill our plates. It’s what our children deserve.

On shelves May 15th.

Source: Reviewed from British edition, purchased by self.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

  • Here’s the review from The Book Smugglers that inspired me to read this in the first place.
  • And here’s pretty much a link to every other review of this book . . . um . . . ever.

Spoiler-ific Interviews: The Book Smugglers have Ms. Hardinge talk about her influences.  Remember those goofy television episodes from the 70s and 80s where dopplegangers would cause mischief.  Seems they gave at least one girl viewer nightmares.

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11. Call for Submissions: Fairy Tale Review

Submissions are now being accepted for the twelfth annual issue, The Ochre Issue, of Fairy Tale Review. The Ochre Issue has no particular theme—simply send your best fairy-tale work along the spectrum of mainstream to experimental, fabulist to realist. 

We accept fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry, in English or in translation to English, along with scholarly, hybrid, and illustrated works (comics, black-line drawings, etc.).

The reading period will remain open until the issue is full—we predict closing it sometime in late spring or early summer. 

For full guidelines, visit our website.

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12. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Little Brown, 2015

Hazel, Ben and Jack have grown up together in the town of Fairfold, knowing it’s the most interesting on earth to live.  Tourists flock to this small town to see the main attraction in the middle of the forest, and sometimes they don’t come back.  The children have been brought up to know they should never act like tourists or they too, may disappear.  They keep iron and oatmeal in their pockets and don’t venture into the woods on a full moon.  They hang special herbs on their lintels and wear them in small bags around their necks.  They do this because Fairfold is a truly different, one where humans and faeries live side by side.  There is a reason the residents protect themselves from the faerie folk as well as the other magical and dangerous creatures of the forest that are from another realm.  And the main attraction?  A beautiful boy with horns, asleep in a glass casket that is unbreakable.

Hazel and Ben are brother and sister and when they were little, they played at being a knight who kills evil creatures and the boy who can sing them into submission.  As they grow older, their child play is forgotten and other people and attentions take over.  Now as teens, they go to parties where Hazel kisses the boys and Ben hangs out with his best friend Jack, who himself has an interesting past.

But things in Fairfold begin to unravel, especially when the boy with horns wakes up.  The morning after, Hazel wakes up knowing she had something to do with his awakening but keeps her secret hidden.  When Ben and Hazel decide to search for the beautiful boy with horns, Jack warns them not to, asking them to take heed of his warnings.  They decide to pursue the object of their fascination regardless, not knowing that this awakening has also roused a most terrible monster of the forest who will wreak havoc and destroy anyone who stands in its way.  There is only one solution, but can Hazel and Ben meet the challenge or will they be destroyed as well? 

 A popular sing-song rhyme all of the kids in town know goes like this:
There’s a monster in our wood. 
She’ll get you if you’re not good. 
Drag you under leaves and sticks. 
Punish you for all your tricks. 
A nest of hair and gnawed bone.
You are never, ever coming…
And the one thing they’ve learned is to never ever say the last word.  It’s too late now….


Readers can tell with this novel that Holly Black knows how to write fantasy.  From the setting to the characters to the thickening plot, Black puts her special spin on the story, weaving a beautiful type of lyric onto the pages.  She makes her characters real but has a gift of also making things other than human come to life.  The forest and town aren’t just places, but living and breathing entities, just like the characters.  The main characters in this novel are dynamic and so different from each other but yet maintain a triad that can’t be broken without breaking the storyline.  It wouldn’t work without the trio…those three characters belong together.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read urban fantasy, and am glad this is the book to take me back there again.  Fantasy readers will very much DEVOUR this book and be satisfied with an ending to the tale without hanging on the strings of a sequel (although the adventures could continue in a completely different realm).  HIGHLY recommended for upper junior high and high school.  Even better, it'll be published January 2015!

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13. The Queen of the Tearling: Review

Have you read The Queen of the Tearling yet? If not: stop what you are doing immediately; do not pass Go; do not collect $200. Just go read The Queen of the Tearling. You will not regret it. I’m really bummed that I didn’t read it sooner. (And didn’t read it soon enough to count it among my 2014 favorites, because it definitely is, you guys.) It’s the sort of novel I’m predisposed to like because it features all of the following: lost princesses, a kingdom in turmoil, a tiny bit of romance, and ladies being badasses. And the underlying message is “this is why books are important, you guys.” So, this is all to say: if you like any of all of these things, please go read The Queen of the Tearling, and then join me in biting my nails, squealing like a ten year-old, and making grabby hands for... Read more »

The post The Queen of the Tearling: Review appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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14. Don't overlook these books!

I love the seven books my panel selected as the finalists for YA Speculative Fiction. I'm really proud of our shortlist as a representation of the best YA Spec Fic books of 2014. However, there are always the ones that got away, the ones that didn't quite make it. When seven people are deliberating, compromises have to be made, and sometimes, no matter how passionate you are about a book, you can't convince your fellow judges. Here are some of the 2014 Cybils nominees that I loved, but which didn't make the cut as finalists:


Divided We Fall Trilogy: Book 1: Divided We Fall
Trent Reedy

This is a frighteningly believable book about a near-future conflict between a state and the Federal Government, with the National Guard caught in the middle.  Exciting plot, credible and distinctive teen male voice, and well-developed protagonist.



Gwenda Bond

For anyone who has ever wanted to be Circus. Part mystery, part circus story, and a bit of magic, this story of a young wire walker trying to overcome her family's past and prove herself is dripping with atmosphere and loaded with teen appeal.



Love Is the Drug
Alaya Dawn Johnson

Federal agents investigating Washington DC prep school student Emily Bird may be more of a danger to her than the rapidly spreading global pandemic. An exciting thriller that shows the stark contrast between the power elite in Northwest DC and the working class in the Northeast, and the racism that exists in both.



Shadowfell #03: The Caller
Juliet Marillier

The conclusion of a terrific high fantasy series that started with Shadowfell. I've loved all the books in this series, but sadly I've been unsuccessful at convincing my fellow judges to shortlist any of them. With well developed characters, a page-turning plot, and themes of sacrifice and choice, this may be the best book of the trilogy.


The Girl from the Well
Rin Chupeco

A creepy paranormal horror story told from the point of view of a centuries-old ghost. With distinctive voice, an almost poetic writing style, and a strong dose of Japanese culture, The Girl from the Well has a lot of teen appeal. This one came very close to making the shortlist, but we had some concerns about the mentally ill being used in a stereotyped way for horror effect.



A Creature of Moonlight
Rebecca Hahn

As the daughter of a dragon and a princess, Marni is torn between two worlds, the wild and beautiful but dangerous forest, and the equally dangerous life at court. A beautifully lyrical, character-driven fantasy with a theme of choice and being true to yourself.

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15. First Crystal Pen Publishing Newsletter

Here is the first newsletter for Crystal Pen Publishing, the new publishing name for my Kindle books. Hope you like it! Please give me some feedback about what you would like to see in the next issue!

Newsletter

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16. Zac’s Destiny 2014 Kindle Award Winner!

Zac’s Destiny, winner of The Book Awards for a Kindle title 2014!
Available on Kindle from Amazon worldwide.

2014KindleWinner

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17. Caution: Witch in Progress 2014 Award Winner!

Caution: Witch in Progress, The Book Awards runner-up for printed book of the year and gaining highest number of votes for a fiction title 2014!

2014PrintRunner-Up

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18. Review: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. Candlewick Press. 2014. Reviewed from ARC. Morris Finalist.

The Plot: To understand Ava Lavender and her wings, you have to understand her mother and her grandmother before her. So Ava tells the story of the three generations of women in her family, of their loves, and how they survived heart break and loss.

And how Ava was born with wings, and how that shaped her life.

The Good: Yes, Ava was born with wings -- The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a beautifully written work of magical realism. Ava's being born with wings is something obvious to the world, but there are other things throughout the book, from a sister who turns herself into a bird to ghosts to how the women in Ava's family sometimes see or hear or smell the world around them.

I loved the language of this book, and began jotting down phrases almost from the start: "Foreseeing the future, I would later learn, means nothing if there is nothing to be done to prevent it." "My whole heart for my entire life."

When telling the story of her mother Viviane and grandmother Emilienne, the women who raised her, Ava concentrates mostly on their loves and lost loves and betrayals of their teen years. And while the introduction mentions things that Ava does as a grown woman, the story in the book -- like the stories of Vivane -- takes place during Ava's teen years. Obviously, Emilienne and Viviane grown older, but the most important part of their lives -- the part that Ava talks about -- are the parts when they are young women.

I mention this in part because, given the multiple generation storytelling and that Ava's own story doesn't start until half way through, it's tempting to wonder why this is a young adult book and not an adult book. I know I did -- but I think it's because, in part, the most important things that happen in Emilienne and Viviane and Ava's lives, the things that shape them, the things the book are about are all events from their years as young women.

I can easily see who I would recommend this book to -- the language is lovely and lush. Readers who like magical realism. Teens who want something different from a reading experience. And book discussion groups -- there is a lot to talk about and examine and analyze.

I have to confess something, though. This is the book that shows I can read not just as a reader, but as a librarian, looking to see who would like a book and also recognizing just how great a book. But. And sorry -- but this isn't a book for "me", as a reader. If I were on a committee, I would be open to persuasion and open to arguments about why to vote for this book. But for me, the way that loss and despair practically broke Emilienne and Vivianne for so long -- it just was too depressing. And (more spoilers) there is a violent attack at the end that bothered me not so much from the realism of the violence and hatred, but for what was behind it. Again: this is a personal, reader reaction. That's about me, not the book.

Other reviews: the School Library Journal Someday My Printz Will Come blog; Steph Sinclair at the Tor blog; A Book and a Latte.



Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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19. Going Out On A High

I have liked some of M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales/Pals in Peril books better than others. (I know I'm nitpicking on this, but the name of the series changed for some reason.) I had to be won over by the first book, Whales on Stilts, but the second one, The Clue of of the Linoleum Lederhosen, was a hit. The third one I read (there are supposed to be six; I seem to have missed a couple), Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware wasn't a favorite. But the final book in the series, He Laughed with His Other Mouths, is an absolute gem.

The basic premise for all these books: A Tom Swift-type character named Jaspar Dash and a spunky girl (younger and spunkier than the 1930's era Nancy Drew) existed in their own book worlds that reflected the eras that created them, the 1920s/30s and the 1980s/90s. And yet, at the same time, they are existing in our own twenty-first century where Jaspar, in particular, is both having adventures but out of place.

In He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Jaspar is now that classic/stereotypical character, the young male in search of his father. Jaspar will go to the ends of the universe in search of dear old dad. He will accept some pretty outlandish behavior from his father figure. However, Jaspar is a young hero, and he recognizes evil when he sees it. Maybe he doesn't recognize it right away and maybe he needs a little push from his spunky girl companions, but he does recognize and behave as a hero should.

All of the books that I've read in this series operate on more than one level. You have the basic contemporary adventure. You have characters from an older book world trying to function in a contemporary one. You have the knowledge that children who are now old, if not dead, read the older books back when they were new and shiny.

With He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Anderson does something quite marvelous with footnotes. Using footnotes for witty asides has become a cliche since Terry Pratchett perfected doing that back in the day. But Anderson uses his clever footnotes not to be witty but to tell another story entirely, this one about a kid during World War II who was a Jaspar Dash fan. This is a complete story, a piece of serious historical fiction embedded in a fantasy satire/comedy.

As with all these books that I've read, I wonder how much of this wonderful stuff child readers will understand. Assuming they enjoy the layer with the contemporary adventure, will they get the jokes that are part of it? Will they get the nostalgic elements?

Kid readers aside, for those of us who do get He Laughed with His Other Mouths, it's pretty damn brilliant.

He Laughed with His Other Mouths is a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category.


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20. Muddy Max - a graphic novel review

I have been busy lately with review and blogging obligations, as well as work and preparation for the holiday season, but I did take time out to read a copy of Elizabeth Rusch's graphic novel, Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Thanks to the hard-working intern who brought it to my attention and supplied me with a copy.


Rusch, Elizabeth. 2014. Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel.  Illustrated by Mike Lawrence.

Max lives in the aptly-named suburban town of Marsh Creek. In addition to the marsh on the outskirts of town, mud is everywhere in town as well, making it almost impossible for the child of neat-freak parents to stay clean!  Max becomes suspicious of his parents'secretive habits, frequent trips to the marsh, and fanatical obsession with his cleanliness.  When he accidentally discovers that mud gives him superpowers, he and his friend Patrick become determined to figure out exactly what is going on in Marsh Creek.

This is an easy-to-read graphic, sci-fi novel that should be popular with younger kids and reluctant readers. The panels are easy to follow, with simple, but expressive drawings in muted browns and grays that reflect the book's muddy locale. Hopefully, future installments will add some dimension to the Max's female friend. Not willing to completely divest herself of her nonfiction roots, Rusch adds some real science about mud and its denizens in the back matter.

I predict that more than one member of my book club will want to take this one home.  I'll have to place some holds on library copies.



A Teacher's Guide to Muddy Max is available here.


Elizabeth Rusch is also a talented author of nonfiction. Last year I reviewed her book, Volcano Rising.


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21. The Six Swans

The Six Swans, Personal project: Watercolor

The Six Swans, Personal project: Watercolor

The Six Swans

A Short Fairy Tale Retelling By Manelle Oliphant

Text and illustrations © 2014 by Manelle Oliphant

You can download this title for free by clicking here. 

T

he morning sun warmed my face and I opened my eyes. Blinking, I waited for my mind to wake up. I still felt tired after my night’s sleep. I remembered my long labor and my baby. I pulled the beautiful white blankets closer to me. The baby made a noise. I unwrapped him to get a look at the little perfect face I remembered from last night.

A pig.

It squealed and squirmed in my arms.

I almost cried out but stopped myself. My brothers counted on me. My breaths came quick and heavy like yesterday when I was in labor. I shook Albert awake.

He smiled up at me until he saw my face. He sat up. “What’s the matter?”

Still breathing heavy I shoved the blankets of pig at him. Where was my baby? I searched the bedding. He could still be here somewhere.

Albert glanced from the pig to me as I pulled the blankets onto the cold floor. No baby. My chubby baby boy wasn’t here. My strength failed and I knelt down. Silent tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t make a sound or my brothers would be swans all their lives.

Albert rang for the servants and gathered me into his arms. I felt warm and safe close to him.

The servants entered the room, followed by the Queen and her favorite advisor. “What’s wrong Albert dear?” Her voice smooth, with hard edges.

I pulled my face from Alberts now wet shirt and looked at her. A smile played at the edges of her mouth. This was her latest effort to be rid of me.

Albert let go of me and ran toward his mother. “Mother, our baby is gone! This pig was put in it’s place. We must punish whoever has done this.”

The queen put his hand around her arm, and patted it. “My dear. I warned you something like this might happen. I’m afraid your little mute wife doesn’t have all her wits about her. She’s done this herself.”

They both looked at me. I imagined myself through their eyes. I must have looked crazy with my tear stained face, crumpled night gown, and my worn out body. We stared at each other for a split second. I shook my head. No. No. No. Not me! I pointed at the queen. She did it. I looked at Albert and pointed again. Your mother. She’s the one to blame.

She smiled at me. “See what I mean? If you insist on bringing home waifs from the woods and marrying them you also have to face the consequences.”

Albert looked from me to his mother. Did he believe her? She’d poisoned his mind against me for the last two years. I knew he loved me. I knew it. Why couldn’t he see her sinister intentions?

The queen smiled and met his gaze. “Think about it my boy. If someone kidnapped the new prince why replace him with a pig? I’m afraid your little wife has done this herself.”

The color drained from Albert’s face. He looked at me and his shoulders slumped.

No! I climbed across the bed toward him. I reached out. He mustn’t believe this awful thing of me. He looked at me for a second before he took my hand.

I looked at the queen. She gave me a wry smile. “Albert my dear, you must do something about this. You owe the kingdom more than a crazy queen. What if your children were to inherit her mind? It’s for the best this baby is gone.”

Albert looked at me. I could see through his eyes to his breaking heart. He believed her. My shoulders slumped. How to defend myself without talking? I opened my mouth. I could speak, prove I’m not crazy, but all these years of silence would be in vain. I shut my mouth and slumped onto the bed.

The queen continued. “She has killed her own child and must be tried.” She made a motion with her hand. “Lock her up until we decide what to do with her.”

A guard came toward me. If they locked me up how would I finish the shirts that would break the spell on my brothers? I looked to my husband again and begged with my hands.

He only looked unsure.

The guard pulled me out and toward the the lower floors. No! I needed to finish my work. I yanked my arm out of his and ran the other direction. I heard the queen yell for him to go after me. I found more energy and ran faster. I ran, up, up, up, until I reached my tower room where my work waited. I hurried inside. I locked the door and stood panting. I heard the guard reach the door. He knocked.

“Princess, open the door.”

I wouldn’t of course. I heard the queen’s voice. “I don’t care if she’s locked up here or in the dungeon. Stand guard and don’t let her out. After the trial we’ll decide what is to be done.”

I heard her walk away. The guard shuffled around for a minute until he got comfortable outside the door. Then silence.
I leaned on the door, exhausted. I thought of my husband whom I loved. Would he stand up for me? Where was my baby? I put my head in my hands and cried.

I couldn’t allow myself to wallow for long. My work waited. If they sentenced me to death I wanted my brothers to live as men. I worked through my tears. By dusk I finished weaving cloth I’d need for the last shirt. The bell rang in the square. It echoed off the buildings so anyone nearby would hear. They were about to pronounce my sentence.

At the window I could see the crier far below and people gathered to listen.

“Let it be known, this day, the princess Ingrid was found guilty of murder after killing her young son, the prince of this land! Her sentence is death. She will be burned in the morning!”

I wasn’t surprised. My mother-in-law needed to remove me before I could prove her guilt. I turned around and looked at my little room. My body cried out with pain and exhaustion, but if I didn’t finish by morning what would become of my brothers? I lit a candle and worked on.

Later I heard a knock at my door. I went over but didn’t open it. I heard my husband’s voice.

“Ingrid! I know you are awake. I hope you can hear me.”

I sat down and put my ear to the key hole.

“I’ve tried everything to save you, but we can’t find the baby. I have no power to stop things. Not until I come of age and the regency ends. Mother says I am bewitched by you and my word can’t be trusted. She has convinced everyone the kingdom’s future safety requires your death.”

My heart ached. I still loved him. If I could tell him everything maybe he could do something… but I couldn’t, not yet, not until my brothers stood beside me as humans again.

I heard him move and his voice got louder. “I don’t want to lose you, like I lost our son. I don’t know what to do.”

His voice sounded higher than normal. He was crying. I pushed my fingers under the door. This man, my husband, wasn’t perfect, but I loved him, and I wasn’t going to die angry. After a second his hand touched mine. We sat there for some time, but I needed to finish before daybreak. After a while I pulled my hand back and went to work.

The last shirt needed one more sleeve when the sun’s light shown through the window. I heard a commotion outside the door. Time for my execution. Maybe it would be okay without the sleeve. I gathered the shirts into my arms and unlocked the door. No point being difficult. The queen came in followed by three guards. Albert stood beside her with hair mashed up on one side. Did he sleep outside my door? Our eyes met as the they pulled me away.

Down, down, down to the courtyard where I faced my death. I wasn’t the only one who worked through the night. A thick wooden stake was surrounded by piles of wood and dry straw.

The guards pulled me forward. One tried to take the shirts but I fought him.

The queen stood on a balcony above the courtyard where she could watch. “Leave them. If the little witch wants to hold a bunch of ragged shirts while she burns what’s it to us?”

He let me keep them. I searched the sky. Where were my brothers? Ropes were looped around my legs and middle and were pulled tight.

A hooded man with a torch stepped forward.

They always flew here at sunrise. Why be late today?

He lowered the torch and the straw at my feet caught fire.

Honk. Honk.

Here they were!

Honk. Honk.

Two of my brothers swooped down and scattered the twigs, which had caught fire. They pecked at the man with a torch until he backed away.

The queen shook her fist at the executioner and her guards. “Shoot those birds!”

My other four brothers held a blanket in their beaks. They circled low in the courtyard. When they passed the balcony, where my husband stood behind his mother, they set the blanket at his feet. I saw him bend to pick it up but smoke, feathers, and people blocked my view. My brothers fought now except the two who pecked at my ropes.

Honk! Honk! Honk!

The queen leaned out and shouted more, “What’s the matter with you?” Shoot them! Shoot them!”

A guard ran by with swans pecking at his face. “There are too many, my queen!”

I felt the ropes loosen.
Albert moved in front of his mother. “Quiet!” His voice carried over the crowd. “Halt the execution!” The commotion stopped.
“My son, we have gone through this. She is a murderer.”

He held up the blanket. “If she is a murderer, Mother, explain to me how my son is still alive.”

The queen’s face drained of color. “Still alive?”

The ropes fell at my feet.

I threw a shirt over the swan closest to me and he turned from bird to man. I heard the crowd gasp but ignored them. Again, and again, shirt on swan, bird to man. Soon all six of my brothers stood before me, men during the day for the first time since my birth. I put my hands up to the sun and spoke my first words since I learned of their curse. “My brothers!”

I gathered my human brothers into a big circle hug. My youngest had a wing for his left arm but he smiled at me. “We saved your baby from drowning.” He pointed at the advisor. “That man threw him down a well.”

My husbands voice carried around the courtyard with the authority of a king. “Guards, arrest my mother the queen, and her advisor, for attempted murder of the crown prince, and the princess.” The queen shrunk into herself but she didn’t protest as she was led away.

Albert ran down and put his arm around me. I stroked my baby’s head and smiled at Albert. “Hello.” It was the first word I’d ever said to him.

He pulled me close. “I’m sorry I didn’t fight harder for you.”

“It is forgiven.” Happy tears formed in my eyes. Years of silent lonely work were at an end. I saved my brothers, I could speak, and I had my family close. This wasn’t the time for holding grudges.

The End

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22. Friday Feature: The Regenerates by Maansi Pandya



Title: The Regenerates
Series: The Regenerates, Book 1
Author: Maansi Pandya
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publisher: Radiance Publishing

Blurb: Abolition Day has arrived again, the day when any of Cor’s citizens arrested for opposing the regime are publicly executed in a special ‘cleansing’ ceremony. Sixteen-year-old Ven is an aristocrat. He lives in a palace, goes to lavish parties and wears buttons made of pure gold. To him, Abolition Day is nothing more than an unpleasant holiday that comes and goes. All of that changes when his best friend, Coralie, makes the execution list. In order to save her life, Ven teams up with a mysterious criminal who warns him that his city is in terrible danger. He offers Ven a deal: steal something from the palace for him, and he’ll save Coralie’s life. Not about to watch his best friend die, Ven makes the deal and slowly uncovers the truth behind the criminal’s warning – something out there is desperate to see Cor burn to the ground, and it makes Ven question everything he’s believed in.

Order Paperback/E-book at: http://www.amazon.com/The-Regenerates-Maansi-Pandya/dp/0993884008/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1414240665&sr=8-1&keywords=the+regenerates 


Author Bio: Maansi Pandya is a YA Author who loves Fantasy, especially adventure stories! She currently lives in Vancouver, Canada and studied Creative Writing and Political Science at the University of East Anglia.

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23. Nightmares! by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller, illustrated by Karl Kwasny, 355 pp, RL 4

Full disclosure here:  I have been a fan of Jason Segel's since watching the television show Freaks & Geeks ages ago. Having grown up with the Muppets, I was further impressed by Segel when I heard an interview in which he spoke passionately and thoughtfully about co-writing and acting in the Muppets revival movie. This, along with the fact that Segel had the good sense to team up with

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24. George R. R. Martin’s The Ice Dragon

martin_ice dragon 2014George R. R. Martin is best known for penning his A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy saga, the basis for HBO’s crazy-popular series Game of Thrones. Speaking from personal experience, it’s shamefully easy for fans of that franchise to forget just how prolific he is. Admittedly, ASOIAF is pretty absorbing — what with bloody betrayals and dragons and reanimated corpses and all — and the enormous cast of characters spread across seven kingdoms takes up a lot of mental space. But right now, with the show between seasons (season 5 won’t start until the spring) and book six, The Winds of Winter, not due out for…let’s say “a while,” it’s a good time to check out GRRM’s other work. His bibliography includes many more speculative fiction novels and short stories for adults in addition to a fantasy novella ostensibly for children, The Ice Dragon (Tor Teen, October 2014).

The Ice Dragon originally appeared in Dragons of Light (Ace Books), a 1980 anthology edited by Orson Scott Card, then was republished by Tor/Starscape in 2006 as a stand-alone volume illustrated by Yvonne Gilbert. This October, Tor Teen released a new edition with illustrations by comics veteran Luis Royo. Set in the same fantastical world as A Song of Ice and Fire, The Ice Dragon is one of several fairy tale–type stories that ASOIAF character Jon Snow recalls caregiver Old Nan telling him and his half-siblings during their childhoods.

In The Ice Dragon, “winter child” Adara is chilly, both physically and emotionally. Her mother died giving birth to Adara during “the worst freeze that anybody could remember,” and her neighbors gossip that “the cold had entered Adara in the womb.” As a small child, Adara frequently stays outside for hours despite freezing temperatures; at age four, she encounters an ice dragon (which breathes cold) and becomes fascinated. The ice dragon seems equally drawn to her, and each winter for several years the pair goes on many long flights. War nears Adara’s family farm and her uncle urges her father to take Adara and her siblings somewhere safer, but seven-year-old Adara runs away, unwilling to leave the ice dragon behind. When the enemy’s soldiers and fire-breathing dragon threaten her family, however, Adara and her ice dragon return to protect them… at a wrenching cost.

In the Spring 2007 issue of The Horn Book Guide, reviewer Deborah Kaplan wrote of the 2006 edition, “The combination of a seven-year-old heroine with scenes of gory violence makes the audience for this fairy tale unclear.” It’s a good point: despite its young protagonist, many illustrations, petite trim size, and large typeface, the book’s violence and formal language aren’t especially kid-friendly. I think the main audience of this new volume will be adult Game of Thrones completists, rather than child or even teen readers; after all, both Martin and Royo have dedicated adult followings. Lush paintings and block-print-looking chapter opener art printed (as is the text) in frosty blue on creamy pages — along with a dynamic poster of Adara and the ice dragon in flight — make this a handsome addition to a diehard GoT fan’s collection.

feastoficeandfireSide note: did you know that Sariann Lehrer and Chelsea Monroe-Cassel, the authors of A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Cookbook based on their blog The Inn at the Crossroads, live (and cook things like boar’s head and eels) in Boston’s Allston neighborhood? Small world! There are several recipes I’d love to try (honeycakes with blackberries, yum) if I could drop in for dinner — but I’d pass on the eels, thanks.

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25. How Will We Live Our Afterlives?

Here's the basic set-up for The Devil's Intern by Donna Hosie: Hell and "Up There" are just places people go to after they die. While there are definitely evil folk in Hell who suffer horribly, some people, like our teenage protagonist Mitchell, seem to end up there for random reasons. For them, Hell is pretty much a really boring, overcrowded place. They hold jobs and can change. Mitchell's good friend, a Viking prince who died in battle at sixteen, has learned to read in Hell.

Mitchell is an intern in the accounting department and through his boss is able to get his hands on a device that will allow him to time travel. His plan is to go back in time with his three best (dead) friends to relive and change their deaths. Mitchell, in particular, wants to get to live the life he missed out on because he was hit by a bus.

There's much that's entertaining and intriguing in this book. There's plenty of narrative drive once the group finally gets on the road. But I had a hard time with the "paradox" business that Mitchell kept talking about. If these dead kids changed their deaths, what does that do to their afterlives where they were best friends and even two couples? The things that happen at each of their deaths that only happen because of something else that happened and could that be changed? Well, I was watching an episode of Dr. Who this afternoon that I couldn't follow, either. The where-are-we-in-time thing is difficult for me.

While I was reading The Devil's Intern, I wondered if it was really YA or was it an adult book with teen characters? One of the big factors in determining YA is supposed to be theme. YA themes often involve young people working out how they're going to live their lives. At first, I thought the characters in The Devil's Intern were coming to terms with how they had lived their lives, which would be adult. However, you could argue that they are working out how they're going to live their afterlives, bringing us around to YA territory again.

Hellbent by Anthony McGowan is another YA book set in Hell. Interesting how totally different they are.

The Devil's Intern is a Cybils nominee in the Young Adult Speculative Fiction category.

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