Two-Year Blogiversary

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Imaginary Friends is a toddler. Thank you to everyone who’s followed the blog this year. Keep reading — and keep encouraging the kids in your life to read!

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Book Review: Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe

Screen Shot 2018-04-04 at 12.40.01 PMSmack Dab in the Middle of Maybe by Jo Watson Hackl is the story of twelve-year-old Ariana “Cricket” Overland’s quest to find the mysterious Bird Room and convince her mama to come home for good. Set in a Mississippi ghost town, this book is part survival story, part mystery, and part coming-of-age story.

Some of the things I liked best about this book are:

  • The beginning.
    “Turns out, it’s easier than you might think to sneak out of town smuggling a live cricket, three pocketfuls of jerky, and two bags of half-paid-for merchandise from Thelma’s Cash ‘n’ Carry grocery store. The hard part was getting up the guts to go.”
  • Cricket. Her story is in many ways a sad one. Her father has died, her mentally ill mother has left, and her aunt wants to ship her off to live with a great-aunt. But Cricket stays determined and hopeful.
    When she was younger, her mother told her, “We’re meanderers, Cricket. We pay attention.” Those qualities make her a good artist, a good detective, and a good narrator.
  • The Bird Room. I like the idea of a secret room whose four walls are painted with a garden in spring, summer, winter, and fall. And I was excited to learn from the author’s note that it was inspired by the work of a real artist, Walter Inglis Anderson.

Thank you to Random House Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is July 10.

 

Book Review: The Language of Spells

Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 2.07.52 PMThe Language of Spells by Garret Weyr is a wonderful book. It reads like a modern fairy tale. Ironic, really, because it’s the story of a dragon who hates Once upon a time stories.

Benevolentia Gaudium, the dragon known as Grisha, is born in the Black Forest in 1803, the last year that any dragon is born. As a young dragon, he is captured by a sorcerer and imprisoned in a teapot. By the time he’s released from the spell, World War II is over and the world of magic has largely disappeared. All of the dragons are summoned to Vienna, but many disappear, and no one but Grisha seems to remember them. Then, he befriends an unusual girl, Anna Marguerite, or Maggie for short. Together, they set off on a quest to find and save the missing dragons.

Some of the things I like about this book:

  • Maggie and Grisha’s relationship. I love stories about friendship and this is a special one. Listen to the way Maggie describes her friend Grisha: “The dragon had a way of seeing clearly, taking her side, and yet empathizing with everyone involved… When she was with him, she felt like her best self, and when she wasn’t with him she looked forward to seeing him.”
  • The magic. As Grisha explains, magic demands its exact price. It’s simple to practice, but you have to give up what you most love,
  • The dragons. This book is full of interesting tidbits about dragons. Did you know that they can scale up and down in size? And that they need very little sleep?
  • The juxtaposition of magical beings and real history. For example, Grisha, when in teapot form, spends time in the pocket of the Emperor Franz Joseph.
  • The ending. It’s bittersweet but fitting.

Thank you to Chronicle Books and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is June 26.

Book Review: When You Reach Me

Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 10.28.13 AMI’ve had Rebecca Stead‘s When You Reach Me on my TBR list for a long time. It won the Newbery Medal in 2010. It comes highly recommended by several friends. It involves time travel, which I love…

I don’t know why I waited. It’s a quick read and a very cool book.

It’s set in New York City in the late 1970s. Miranda, a sixth grader, lives with her mother. One day she finds a mysterious note stuck in her library book. It asks her to write a letter and to mention the location of her hidden house key: It says: “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own… The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.”

If you’ve just reread A Wrinkle in Time before seeing the new movie adaptation, you should add this book to your TBR pile too.

 

Book Review: Wings of Fire

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Hopefully the birthday boy will take time out from reading Wings of Fire to eat some cake!

In honor of Larrabee’s 9th birthday, I decided to read and review the first book in the Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland: The Dragonet Prophesy.

Larrabee is a big fan of this epic dragon saga. He devoured the first eight books in the past few months, and he’s eagerly waiting for the next two. He talks all the time about the characteristics of the different types of dragons: MudWings, SeaWings, SandWings, SkyWings, IceWings, RainWings, and NightWings.

I figured I’d borrow The Dragonet Prophesy so I could see what all the fuss was about… Well, now I’m hooked. I’m still a little behind Larrabee, having only read the first five books, but I can see what he likes about them.

Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny are the Dragonets of Destiny. These young dragons from five different tribes have been raised in a secret cave by the Talons of Peace in the hope that they will grow up to fulfill the prophesy and end the war raging in Pyrrhia. The trouble is that no one can tell them how they are meant to do it.

Three things I like about these books:

  • The dragon characters. Each book is told from the point of view of a different dragon, each of whom has a distinct personality. Larrabee often laughed out loud at the humorous banter among the dragonets.
  • The prophesy. I’ve written before about how much I like an intriguing prophesy that comes true in unexpected ways.
  • The action. These stories are action-packed as the dragonets try stay one step ahead of all the dragons who want to capture and control them. I’ll warn you, though, that these stories are not for the faint of heart. The dragons fight to the death. But kids who’ve enjoyed the Warriors or Shark Wars series will like these books too.

 

Book Review: Tumble & Blue

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 3.19.43 PMTumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley is a terrific story about friendship and fate.

According to legend, when a red sickle moon rises over the Okefenokee Swamp, a golden alligator will grant a great fate to one brave person. Two hundred years ago, though, two people reached the center of the swamp at the same time and split the fate. Ever since, half of their descendants have had great fates, and the other half have had terrible fates. And now it’s time for the next red moon.

Twelve-year-old Blue Montgomery has one of the terrible fates. He always loses–at everything from tiddlywinks to foot races. And now his father (a race car driver who always wins) has dumped him at his Granny Eve’s house in Murky Branch, Georgia with all of the other cursed Montgomerys hoping for a new fate.

Eleven-year-old Tumble Wilson wants to be a hero like Maximal Star–or like her older brother Jason. But her attempts at heroing don’t always work out so well, and she often ends up being the damsel in distress. After a lifetime of traveling the country in an RV, her parents have brought her to Murky Branch, Georgia for a fresh start.

Some of the things I like best about this book:

  • The friendship between Tumble and Blue. They’re not exactly “friends at first sight” and they don’t always agree, but the two of them are everything a genuine friend should be.
  • The extended Montgomery family. From the manipulative Ma Myrtle to the wise Granny Eve to all of the cousins with their crazy gifts and curses, there’s never a dull day in the Montgomery house.
  • The Georgia setting. One of my favorite details is the local restaurant that serves “Universally Adored Swamp Cakes” a.k.a. green pancakes.
  • What it has to say about talent vs. the rewards of hard work. Everyone thought Granny Eve had a talent for gardening until it became clear that she was cursed to lose her husbands. But, as she says, “Back when I thought it was all a result of magic… well, back then I didn’t enjoy gardening half as much as I do now.”

I read this book aloud to Larrabee. It’s a long, satisfying read, and we both recommend it.

Book Review: One Shadow on the Wall

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It’s rare to find a work of contemporary, realistic middle grade fiction that gives my kids a glimpse into a whole different world. Leah Henderson‘s One Shadow on the Wall is such a book.

Set in Senegal, it’s the story of Mor, an eleven-year-old orphan. He’s determined to keep the promise he made to his dying father: to take care of his two younger sisters. It won’t be easy, though. His aunt wants to take the siblings to the city and split them up. His father’s former employer doesn’t have a job for him. And a gang of older boys threatens him at every turn. Luckily, he has his sisters, his neighbors in the village, and the spirits of his parents on his side.

This book is one that rewards your patience. I read it aloud to Larrabee, and it took us several chapters to get hooked by the story. But overall, we found it to be both engaging and eventful.

Henderson paints a vivid picture of Mor’s village–the colors, the foods, the sounds. And she immerses us in Mor’s daily life, which is so different from Larrabee’s. Mor lives with his sisters and a goat in a one-room hut. He works all summer to feed his family and to save money for his sister’s school tuition. He hardly ever has time to play soccer with his friends–and when he does, they play with a ball made out of plastic bags. His nine-year sister owns just one book and has to fetch water from the well and cook the family’s meals.

While we were reading, Larrabee and I thought often of our friend Rachael who served in the Peace Corps in Senegal. We plan to lend her our copy and ask her how to pronounce all the Wolof words. And then we’ll say, “Jërëjëf (thank you)!”