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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Reading Level MIDDLE GRADE, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 27
1. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, 377pp, RL 5



If you love literature and you have read quite a bit of it, then you know that there are many varieties of good writing. There are writers who are gifted at story telling and craft a work that draws you in and pulls you along at a fast clip. There are writers who are gifted at creating memorable, complex characters that they allow you to get to know intimately. There are writers who put words on a page that read like lines from great poetry, their sentences like a handcrafted delight you savor on your tongue. Then there are writers who turn the world on its side, making you see and think about it in a whole new way. There are a few writers who embody all of these qualities, Philip Pullman and Frances Hardinge coming readily to mind. Interestingly, Pullman and Hardinge are also the only authors of literature for children to win the prestigious Costa Award, which is comparable to the Pulitzer, and is traditionally given to works written for adults.


Fly By Night was the first book by Hardinge that I read and I knew immediately that I was reading something truly special. Hardinge created a complex world ruled by religion and literacy in the absence of an effective monarch, all set in an alternate history universe. Everything about Fly By Night amazed and continues to amaze me, from the setting to the characters and their intricately Dickensian names to the mysterious political and religious intrigue driving the plot. Hardinge's newest book, and Costa Winner, The Lie Tree, is every bit as magnificently written as Fly By Night but it is also a much more personal, poignant story that is more pointedly philosophical and political. And, as I slowly came to realize over the course of the book, The Lie Tree is also a book about women and especially the challenge of being a woman in the 19th century and the various ways that women met with these challenges. As the main character observes near the end of the novel, "Faith had always told herself that she was not like other ladies. But neither, it seemed, were other ladies."

As the novel begins, Faith Sunderly, teenaged daughter of the gentleman scientist and clergyman, Reverend Erasmus Sunderly, finds herself tucked between two crates on the deck of a ship that is taking her family and many of their belongings from Kent to the remote island of Vane where her father has been invited to observe an archaeological dig. Hidden from sight, Faith overhears her father and her Uncle Miles discussing the real reason for their retreat to the island. As Miles points out to Erasmus, one of the most "widely read and respected newspapers in the nation has decried you a fraud and a cheat."

Faith respects and reveres her father, constantly hoping that her interest and intellect in the sciences will win her his attention, but seed of knowledge takes root in her and begins to grow. When her father is found dead and her seemingly frivolous, beautiful mother Myrtle schemes with Miles to make his death look like an accident and not a suicide, which would leave his family destitute, Faith decides to take matters into her own hands. She steals her father's papers - his scientific notebooks, his letters, his financial records, and begins reading through them. She discovers that, years ago while traveling through China Erasmus encountered rumors of a very rare plant specimen. In an attempt to help a fellow Englishman accused of murder, he found the secret hiding place of the plant but was unable to save his countryman. Faith quickly uncovers the hiding place of this specimen, which Erasmus brought to Vane and hid before his death, as well as the true nature of this strange plant, the Lie Tree.

Through his experiments, Erasmus came to learn that the Lie Tree thrives and bears fruit when a lie is whispered to to. The more people who believe the lie, the larger the fruit. In turn, consuming the fruit reveals a truth to the person who eats it. A religious and scientific man, Erasmus perpetrated a lie that he hoped was big enough to reveal, in the interest of truth, if man was, "crafted in God's image and given the world, or was he the self-deluding grandson of some grimacing ape?" He would, "borrow from the Bank of Truth, but in the end would pay back in full and with interest." As Faith reads through her father's notebook she decides to use the Lie Tree to discover her father's murderer.

The idea of lies and the variety of lies consumed me as I read The Lie Tree, so much so that I missed an important theme in the book until almost the end. As Faith's investigation begins, there are necessary lies she must, as a young girl, tell, in order to be able to move about the island. As the lies pile up, she finds herself easily using the the fears of her six-year-old brother against the ill-treated, vengeful housemaid who robs the Reverend Sunderly of his grave, prompting an inquest. The more lies Faith tells, the more she is able to insert herself into situations that give her a glimpse into the machinations of the adult world and life on the island. She also stands back and watches her mother manipulate both the Reverend Clay and Doctor Jacklers with lies of omission as Myrtle maneuvers to keep the family solvent. When Faith finally manages unveil the murderer, it is someone who has also told lies and hidden truths in the passionate pursuit of scientific discovery and she finds herself thinking, "We could have been friends." She also finds herself spluttering in disagreement, along with the murderer, when her captor declares, upon seeing the Lie Tree, that there are things, "science cannot explain." The complexities are rich and varied in this stunning book.

As I read The Lie Tree, I marked sentences and passages that exemplified Hardinge's gorgeous prose and had to stop midway because there were too many slips of paper falling out of my book. But I do want to share a few with you here:

She had tumbled off the safe, hallowed shore of childhood, and now she was in no-man's water, neither one thing nor another, like a mermaid. Until she dragged herself up on the rock of marriage, she was difficult.

As usual, the adulation slid off the Reverend's stony reticence and was soaked up by the handkerchief of Myrtle's busy charm.

Faith thought that it must be very relaxing being Dr. Jacklers, deaf to the crunch of other people's feelings beneath his well intentioned boots.

There was a dangerous joy in talking, even with this enemy. It made Faith realize how she had been trapped in her own head. Trapped in the house. Trapped in the Sunderly family.

And, finally, when Faith confronts her mother and begins to understand her reasons for inviting the attentions of other men after the Reverend's death, Myrtle explains the laws regarding a suicide, telling Faith, 

This is a battlefield, Faith! Women find themselves on the battlefields, just as men do. We are given no weapons, and cannot be seen to fight. But fight we must, or perish.



If you have read this far, I am sure you will get a copy of The Lie Tree and experience for yourself the, "distinctive voice and vividly crafted prose of France Hardinge," as a favorite writer of mine, Linda Buckley-Archer, author of the excellent Time Quake Trilogy , says in her review.


Frances Hardinge's other new book, review coming soon!




Books by Frances Hardinge 
US covers on the left, UK covers on the right











Source: Review Copy

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2. Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling by Tony Cliff, 272 pp, RL: Middle Grade




When I reviewed Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff in 2013, I began by apologizing for the reductionist comparison between his insanely awesome character, Delilah Dirk, and Indiana Jones. But the thing is, Delilah Dirk is the closest I have found in all my reading to a girl character that I have no doubt could overcome the supposed reluctance boys have to reading books with main characters who are girls. But, this is all beside the point. The bottom line is that Tony Cliff has created a character and a world that is completely immersive and absorbing. Upon finishing Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, I felt as though I had read a 300 page novel and watched a fantastic movie. Seriously, these books are so beyond superlatives. I hope I can write about it coherently enough to convince you to give them a try! Enjoy several pages of Cliff's superb illustrations to find a short summary of book two in what I hope is a long series...









Of course I don't want to give away too much of the plot of Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, but rather tempt you with some key details. Delilah Dirk, daughter of a Greek mother and English father who was a foreign ambassador, allowing him to provide a well traveled and uncommon childhood for his only child, and Erdemoglu Selim, former Turkish janissary and killer tea maker, have been traveling companions for two years. While not avoiding conflict, sword fights and occasional gun battle, the two have been mostly staying out of trouble - until they cross paths with Major Jason Merrick in Portugal where the British are preparing to battle the French in the Peninsular War. Merrick decides to frame Delilah for his treasonous activities and she does not go lightly, taking a bullet to the arm in the process. Of course Delilah and Selim escape and she insists on returning to England to confront Maj. Merrick and restore her reputation. Selim is a loss to understand Delilah's insistence, but he follows her to a country and class of people who assume he is her servant. 

Cliff brings great character development to Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, both for Delilah and Selim. While there is plenty of action and fight after fight, the personalities, motivations and struggles both face are so compelling - as compelling as Delilah's strong jawline and voluminous hair. And, happily, with her return to England and her familial estate, we get to see where Delilah inherited these physical - and personality traits from!

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant



Source: Review Copy




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3. Etiquette and Espoinage, Book 1 in the Finishing School Series by Gail Carriger, 237 pp, RL MIDDLE GRADE

Etiquette and Espionage is the first book in Gail Carriger's Finishing School Series, which marks her first foray into the world of YA. Carriger's first series, The Parasol Protectorate, is set in an alternate-historyVictorian England that combines steampunk (quick definition: a sub-genre of science fiction set in an industrialized England and featuring steam-powered machinery, for Carriger's

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4. About Average, by Andrew Clements, 128 pp, RL 4

ABOUT AVERAGE is now in paperback! <!-- START INTERCHANGE - ABOUT AVERAGE -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> Andrew Clements is a prolific author of the bestselling (as in, 2.5 million) story about a boy who makes up a new word,

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5. Through the Woods: Stories by Emily Carroll, 208pp, RL: MIDDLE GRADE

Sadly, I am reviewing Through the Woods, stories by Emily Carroll a month too late. I bought this book back in July and Adam Gidwitz's  review in the New York Times in which he reminds us the children like to be scared, should have been another nudge to me. But, creepy ghost stories, especially the graphic novel kind, are good all year round, right? With my students clamoring for scary

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6. Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead 287pp, RL: MIDDLE GRADE



Rebecca Stead is the author of four books, two of which, Liar & Spy and the Newbery Medal winner, When You Reach Me, I have reviewed here. When You Reach Me is a book that will stay with me the rest of my life. I shy away from making Top 5 or Top 10 lists, but I know that every time I see the cover for this book I will feel a thud of emotion and recall what a powerful experience reading that book was. And I know that I will have the same experience in the future after reading Stead's new novel, Goodbye Stranger. Stead is a gifted writer and a masterful storyteller. She reminds me of one of the few novelists for adults I consistently read and always find gratifying, Kate Morton. Morton's novels, which are rich with compelling characters, weave stories from the past and present, revealing the connection between the two at the end of the story and always delivering an emotional punch, one that has made me gasp out loud before. While Morton - and Stead's - novels are anything but formulaic, they both employ similar formulas for storytelling that keep me engaged and guessing. Having read so many books, I can often see a plot twist pages in advance (and I am no fun to watch movies with) but I never see coming the surprises and rewards Stead (and Morton) always have in store.


Of course, this also makes writing a review a challenge. Goodbye, Stranger divides page time between Bridge, Sherm and an unknown, first person narrator. Bridge and Sherm's stories unfold at the same time, but the unknown narrator's story takes place on Valentine's Day, with Bridge and Sherm's storylines catching up by the end of the novel. Stead has the incredible ability to write a relatively short book that packs an amazing amount of detail and layers into the story. Bridget Barsamian is a seventh grader who is part of a tight trio of friends who have agreed never to fight and never to end their friendship after one of the three experiences the end of her parent's marriage. Bridge is also the survivor of a traumatic accident that took four surgeries and a year of recovery. When she was eight, Bridge was rollerskating with Tab, their mothers walking a few yards behind, and, distracted by a VW Bug and her version of the "Punch Buggy" game, she was hit by a car. Except for a recurring nightmare, Bridge is fully recovered, although something a nurse said to her on the day she was discharged changed the way she thought about herself. The nurse told her that she must have been put on earth for a reason, to survive that kind of accident.

Sherm is also in seventh grade. While he is part of Bridge's story, his narrative comes in the form of letters to his grandfather, Nonno Gio. Bridge and Sherm connect when they discover they are both signed up for Tech Crew with Mr. Partridge, who also leads the Banana Splits Book Club for kids of divorced parents. Emily, the third in Bridge's circle of friends, is in the Banana Splits club. She is also a star soccer player and a pretty girl who is hitting puberty harder than her best friends. Then there is Tab, little sister to Celeste and newly radicalized feminist, thanks to her English teacher, Ms. Berman, who prefers to be called "Berperson." Together, the three friends weather the challenges that are part of growing older, growing up and discovering who you are. Stead takes Goodbye, Stranger into the 21st century when she has Em become involved with a popular eighth grade boy who encourages her to text increasingly inappropriate pictures of herself to him. Talking to this boy, Bridge thinks to herself, "Patrick was only one grade above them, but something about him was older, as if he'd crossed a line Bridge couldn't even see yet."

I realize that at this point, I really haven't told you much about Goodbye, Stranger that might lead you to believe it's as amazing as I say it is, and that is in part because of what I can't say about it. But it's also because Stead takes threads of everyday life and weaves them together to make something larger and more meaningful, much like the Georges Seurat painting pointillist painting that was at the center of Liar & Spy. Small details like Hermey, a character from a television show that Bridge and her older brother Jamie quote to each other, Mr. P buying black and white cookies from Nussbaum's for the Banana Splits and a pair of cat ears that become a "comforting presence" add up to something bigger. But it is the emotional complexity of Stead's writing that is most powerful and unforgettable. While talking about the most moving storyline in the book would be too much of a reveal, there is another emotionally mighty moment that comes when a character reflects on a betrayal of trust, asking, "Who is the real you? The person who did something awful, or the one who's horrified by the awful thing you did? Is one part of you allowed to forgive the other?" The character does something I think suspect is universal among adolescent girls - sharing a secret you promised to keep. In Goodbye, Stranger, this sharing is done as a way to reconnect with a friend who has begun distancing herself, a friend who has also begun to reveal a deep, wide streak of meanness. Stead describes the momentary, euphoric connection that this sharing brings and also the anguish, with a clarity that brought me vividly back to my own adolescence and my own missteps.

In the end, as with all her books, Stead tells a story about connections between people, connections that ultimately are about love and compassion. The connections may be tenuous and strained and characters may find themselves alone and hurt, but they always find their way to each other.


Source: Purchased


Other books by Rebecca Stead:








Another example of masterful storytelling 
that will make you gasp:


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7. The Short Seller by Elissa Brent Weissman, 250 pp, RL 5

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - THE SHORT SELLER -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> The Short Seller is the newest book from Elissa Brent Weissman, author of Nerd Camp, Standing for Socks and The Trouble with Mark Hopper. What I love about

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8. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, 480 pp, RL: MIDDLE GRADE

  <!-- START INTERCHANGE - SERAPHINA -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> Seraphina by Rachel Hartman was published in July of 2012 and has received a lot of well deserved attention since then, including the Morris Award for a debut book by a

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9. Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy, by LA Meyer, RL: Middle School

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - BLOODY JACK -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} Bloody Jack: Being the Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy by L A Meyer has to be some to the best historical fiction I have read in a long time. Admittedly,

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10. Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, 480 pp RL MIDDLE GRADE

First reviewed on 2/20/09, Tunnels (and the whole series) still stands out as a stellar action adventure story. The writing, plotting and world building is superb, inventive and fresh, while also feeling a bit classic at the same time. Yet another book that remains a favorite and has stuck with me for years.  This was one of those books that I avoided when it first came out in January of 2008

2 Comments on Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, 480 pp RL MIDDLE GRADE, last added: 7/26/2013
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11. Well Witched by Frances Hardinge, 400 pp RL: MIDDLE GRADE

First reviewed in 2010, Well Witched remains the BEST ghost story for kids I have read. Harding is a brilliant, diverse writer and this book will give readers chills and make them think! Well Witched is a remarkable and completely different follow- up to one of my all time favorites, Fly By Night, which Frances Hardinge published as her first novel for children in 2006. Whereas her first

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12. W.A.R.P. Book 1 : The Reluctant Assassin, by Eoin Colfer, 352 pp, RL : MIDDLE GRADE

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - THE RELUCTANT ASSASSIN -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> W.A.R.P. Book 1: The Reluctant Assassin is the new series from Eoin Colfer of Artemis Fowl fame. When I was a bookseller, Colfer's Artemis Fowl series was

4 Comments on W.A.R.P. Book 1 : The Reluctant Assassin, by Eoin Colfer, 352 pp, RL : MIDDLE GRADE, last added: 8/12/2013
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13. The Last Dragonslayer, the Chronicles of Kazam, Book 1 by Jasper Fforde, 287pp, RL MIDDLE GRADE

The Last Dragonslayer is now in paperback, and with a cool new take on the original cover art!! <!-- START INTERCHANGE - THE LAST DRAGONSLAYER -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde is the first

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14. Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang, color by Lark Pien, 512 pages, RL: Middle Grade

Boxers & Saints is the innovative new graphic novel diptych from Gene Luen Yang, author of American Born Chinese, winner of the Printz Award, the Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album - New and a 2006 National Book Award finalist. As the cover shows, Boxers & Saints presents parallel stories of two young people who find themselves on opposite sides of the turn-of-the-20th-century Boxer

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15. Page by Paige, written and illustrated by Laura Lee Gulledge, RL: Middle Grade

When I read and reviewed my first graphic novel, Rapunzel's Revenge, written by Shannon and Dean Hale and illustrated by Nathan Hale, back in January of 2009 I was skeptical of the importance of the genre but fully aware of its growing popularity and presence among readers. Drawn to the often amazing artwork (Shaun Tan's The Arrival, Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet series) and vibrant characters (Barry

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16. A Year Without Autumn, written by Liz Kessler, 294 pp, MIDDLE GRADE

Liz Kessler is the author of the very popular Emily Windsnap series of books about a twelve year old girl who lives on a boat with her mother. When Emily takes swimming lessons she discovers she is half-mermaid and her legs turn into a tail when she is underwater. Kessler is also three books into her Philippa Fisher series in which an eleven year old girl who's life is pretty miserable and gets

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17. The Popularity Papers: Words of (Questionable) Wisdom from Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang, written and illustrated by Amy Ignatow, 208 pp, RL 5

One of the few downsides to this blog is that I have such a full shelf of books I want to read and review I feel like I rarely have the time or luxury to read a complete series of books. In terms of reviews, I feel like a positive review of the first book in a series is a pretty good indicator of the rest to come and readers don't need me to keep telling them that every time a new book in the

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18. Drama by Raina Telgemeier with color by Gurihiru, 233 pp, RL MIDDLE GRADE

Oh, how I love Drama, the new graphic novel from the incredible Raina Telgemeier! Telgemeier's first graphic novel, Smile is a masterpiece. Autobiographical in nature, she tells the story of knocking out her two front teeth while in middle school and the years that followed trying to fill the hole in her mouth and cope with the new social landscape ahead of her as she enters her teen years.

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19. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, 338 pp, RL

Linda Sue Park (Newbery Winner for A Single Shard) wrote a first-class review of between shades of gray by Ruta Sepetys for the New York Times Book Review in April of 2011 in which she very accurately called the book a "superlative first novel." For a coherent, concise review, follow the link and read more of what Park had to say. I'm not sure I can do this book justice because I was so deeply

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20. Hurt Go Happy, by Ginny Rorby, 256 pp, RL 5

** January 23, 2013: A report from a National Institute of Health council unanimously recommended that almost ALL of the 451 chimpanzees currently housed at their facilities for the purposes of research and testing be retired, as reported by James Gorman in the New York Times yesterday. Sadly, the N.I.H does not have the funds to retire some 400 of the chimps OR enact the changes to the

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21. On the Day I Died:Stories from the Grave by Candace Fleming, 199 pp, RL MIDDLE GRADE

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - ON THE DAY I DIED STORIES FROM THE GRAVE -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave is the newest book from the multitalented (and multi-awardwinning) Candace Fleming with

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22. Okay for Now by Gary D Schmidt, 368 pp, RL MIDDLE GRADE

OKAY FOR NOW is now in PAPERBACK!! <!-- START INTERCHANGE - OKAY FOR NOW -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> If you read my review of Gary D Schmidt's book The Wednesday Wars, you might know that Okay for Now plucks a minor character

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23. The Last Dragonslayer, the Chronicles of Kazam, Book 1 by Jasper Fforde, 287pp, RL MIDDLE GRADE

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - THE LAST DRAGONSLAYER -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde is the first in the Chronicles of Kazam, his new series for young readers. Many years ago I gleefully gobbled up

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24. The Alchemyst : The Secret of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, by MIchael Scott, 369 pp, RL MIDDLE SCHOOL

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - THE ALCHEMYST THE SECRETS OF THE THE IMMORTAL NICHOLAS FLAMEL -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> The Alchemyst : The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott was published in 2007, the same

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25. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Keith Thompson, 440 pp, RL: MIDDLE SCHOOL

<!-- START INTERCHANGE - LEVIATHAN -->if(!window.igic__){window.igic__={};var d=document;var s=d.createElement("script");s.src="http://iangilman.com/interchange/js/widget.js";d.body.appendChild(s);} <!-- END INTERCHANGE --> Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and illustrated by Keith Thompson is the first in a trilogy that also includes the companion book, The Manual of Aeronautics, which is

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