When Halloween approaches, the kids at the library always start looking for spooky books. This year, I have a new recommendation for them: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden. It’s a quick read that combines chilling action sequences and a satisfying supernatural mystery.
One day, Sixth grader Ollie Adler sees a woman preparing to throw a book in the creek. She can’t bear to see a book destroyed, so she grabs it, takes it home, and starts to read it. It’s a very old book called Small Spaces about a farmer from Smoky Hollow who makes a deal with the Smiling Man.
The next day is Farm Day at Ollie’s school, and the whole sixth grade class takes a field trip to a local farm. As Ollie explores, she discovers hints that Small Spaces is a true story set on this very farm. Then, on the way back to school, the bus breaks down. With darkness falling and the mist rising, Ollie flees with two of her classmates, Brian and Coco, and the real adventure begins.
I promise you, after reading this book, you will never look at scarecrows the same way again!
And if you want more chills, check out the sequel, Dead Voices.
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee combines Korean mythology, science fiction, and mystery in a terrific adventure story. Larrabee and I both loved it.
Min is a 13-year-old fox spirit living on a poor planet with her mother, aunts, and cousins. When her older brother, a cadet in the Thousand Worlds Space Forces, is accused of deserting his post to search for the fabled Dragon Pearl, Min runs away from home to find him. Her quest takes her across the galaxy toward the Ghost Sector.
Some of the things I liked best about this book are:
- Min’s fox magic. In addition to acute senses of smell and hearing, Min has the ability to shape shift and to use Charm to influence other people’s behavior. Although she’s grown up assuming a human form and hiding her magic at her mother’s insistence, all of her special abilities prove useful in her search for her brother.
- The Thousand Worlds. From Min’s dome house on dusty Jinju to the sleek corridors of the battle cruiser Pale Lightning, the book’s settings drew me into the story.
- Min’s allies. Throughout the story, Min finds friends and allies in unexpected places. I particularly liked the goblin Sujin and the dragon Haneul.
Dragon Pearl is a fast-paced, suspenseful, and immersive read. I recommend it.
In The Reckless Club by Beth Vrabel, five students arrive at an assisted living home on the last day of summer. They’ve all been invited by the principal to do a day of service instead of serving a suspension for their bad behavior on the last day of school.
At the beginning of the day, they know each other only by reputation. Lilith is the Drama Queen. Wes is the Flirt. Ally is the Athlete, Rex is the Rebel, and Jason is the Nobody.
The story is told over the course of a single day from alternating viewpoints. As the five kids interact with the residents and with each other, they unravel the mystery of the Teddy Bear Nurse and reveal what they did to earn this punishment. In the process, they develop a surprising bond and figure out both who they’ve been in middle school and who they want to be going forward.
The book’s title is a nod to The Breakfast Club, of course, a movie I loved when I was younger. I expect that most middle grade readers (Larrabee included) haven’t seen it, but that won’t impact their enjoyment of the book.
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez is one of my new favorite books!
I knew I’d like this book based on the “back seat” test. Larrabee often reads in the car on the way to baseball practice, martial arts, etc. If I hear him laugh, I put his book on my to-be-read list. If he insists on reading lines out loud to me, I move it to the top of the list. And if he brings it inside rather than waiting to read more during the next day’s car ride (like he did with this one), I have to blog about it.
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe is kind of a hard book to describe. On the one hand, it’s science fiction. Sal is able to tear a hole in the space-time continuum and see into other parallel universes. He can even bring people and things from them back into our universe. On the other hand, it’s a story about a middle school for the arts, a friendship story, and a story about family relationships.
What you really need to know, though, is that it’s a book that hooks you from the first page. The main character, Sal, is a talented magician (even when he’s not using the multiverse). He’s just moved to Florida with his dad and stepmom, and he’s dealing with a lot of issues–being the new kid in school, missing his mom, and managing his diabetes. His counterpart, Gabi, is the student council president and the editor of the school paper, and she has lots and lots of dads. Both are kind-hearted kids who make you root for their success.
This book was published by Disney-Hyperion under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. Larrabee has read most of the books they’ve published in the past year and a half and has enjoyed them all. We are particularly looking forward to Sal and Gabi’s next adventure (coming in 2020).
Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire by John August is a fantasy adventure with plenty of action and lots of mystery.
Twelve-year-old Arlo Finch has just moved with his mom and older sister to live with his uncle in a tiny Colorado town. In an effort to fit in, he joins a scouting organization called the Rangers. He expects that he’ll learn to tie knots and navigate using a compass–and he does. But the Rangers also practice unusual skills that involve harnessing the magical energy of the nearby Long Woods.
Soon, Arlo receives a mysterious warning that he’s in danger. He’ll need all his new skills and the help of his new friends from Blue Patrol to stay one step ahead of the supernatural forces that are after him.
Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire is the first in a planned trilogy. Larrabee and I both enjoyed it. We just borrowed the second one, Arlo Finch in the Lake of the Moon, from the library.
And if you’re curious about how the book came to be, John August has recorded an interesting podcast (Launch) about the whole process from writing to printing.
I watched The Parent Trap over and over when I was a little girl. I loved the story of two identical twins raised apart who meet at summer camp and scheme to reunite their divorced parents.
To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer caught my attention because its premise sounded like The Parent Trap in reverse. Two twelve-year-old girls, Avery and Bett, are being raised by single, gay dads on opposite sides of the country. When their dads meet at a conference and fall in love, they decide to send the girls to the same summer camp. But Bett finds out and emails Avery. The two agree that they don’t want to meet at camp, and they don’t want their families to change.
The story is told entirely in letters (mostly emails) over the next year and a half. I’m not always a fan of epistolary novels, but this one works because the two girls have such distinct personalities and writing styles. Avery (a.k.a. Night Owl) is an intense New Yorker who worries about a lot of things. Bett (a.k.a. Dogfish) is an outdoorsy and fearless Californian. It’s fun to see the story unfold through their different viewpoints.
My dad is a big Civil War buff, and I grew up among the battlefields of Middle Tennessee, so I was intrigued by a middle grade novel about a twelve-year-old Civil War reenactor. The Not-So-Boring Letters of Private Nobody by Matthew Landis did not disappoint. It’s a terrific school friendship story with a historical mystery on the side.
Oliver is an expert on the Civil War, so he’s thrilled about his new social studies project. But then he gets paired with Ella, a girl who never does her homework and is rumored to be failing the 7th grade. To make matters worse, they’re not assigned one of the famous generals he knows so much about. Instead, they’re tasked with researching Private Raymond Stone, a low-ranking soldier who lived near their Pennsylvania town and died of dysentery.
Both Private Stone and Ella turn about to be a lot more surprising–and complicated–than Oliver expected. The same could be said for this book. I recommend it.