Listen up, Percy Jackson fans. You’re going to want to put Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun on your wish list. It’s an action-packed quest adventure that draws on the Navajo legend of the Hero Twins.
Seventh grader Nizhoni Begay dreams of being a middle school superstar. But her one special talent is that she can recognize monsters. Unfortunately, no one believes her when she tells them that her dad’s new boss is up to no good.
Then, her dad is kidnapped, and only Nizhoni, her younger brother, and her best friend Davery can rescue him. They’ll have to pass a series of trials to reach the House of the Sun and obtain the weapons they’ll need to defeat the monsters.
Some of my favorite things about this book were:
- Mr. Yazzie, the wise horned toad, who mentors Nizhoni.
- The prophetic poem that Nizhoni receives from the mysterious snack lady in the train station.
- The Navajo mythological figures that appear in the story.
- The fact that Nizhoni, her brother, and Davery have complementary skills.
- The satisfying final battle.
Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is January 14, 2020.
Tinn and Cole Burton, the main characters of William Ritter’s Changeling, are twins. They look identical in every respect, and they get into all the same mischief. But only one of them is a human boy. The other is a goblin changeling. And neither knows which one he is.
Then, just before their 13th birthday, the twins find a note in their favorite climbing tree. The note instructs the changeling to return alone to the goblin horde the next day or else magic in the Wild Wood will die, the horde will die, and he will die.
Tinn and Cole are not entirely sure the note is real, but they can’t take the chance that one of them might die if they do nothing. So they decide to follow the map enclosed with the note into the Wild Wood and across the swamp known as the Oddmire to find out who they really are. Along the way, they meet strange creatures and face many dangers.
Changeling is a fast-paced fantasy adventure. It has a fairy tale-like feel that reminded me of The Girl Who Drank the Moon. My favorite thing about the book was how Tinn and Cole wrestle with the uncertainty about which one of them is a goblin and what that will mean for the other one and for their relationship.
This book is the first in a new series (The Oddmire). Some series openers have frustrating cliffhanger endings, but I’m pleased to report that this book does not fall into that trap. It provides a couple of tantalizing clues about the next book, of course, but it resolves the main story questions raised in this one in a satisfying way.
Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is July 16.
The minute Larrabee finishes a book he loves, he always asks, “Is there a sequel?”
If, like us, you loved The Doughnut Fix by Jessie Janowitz (a 2018 Cybils finalist), then I have good news for you. Tris’s adventures continue in The Doughnut King!
The doughnut business that Tris started with his friend Josh is a huge success. It’s so popular, actually, that they can’t keep up with demand, and that’s a problem. Meanwhile, the town of Petersville has problems too. If it’s not able to attract tourists, it may disappear.
When all his other options to fix his supply issues fail, Tris reluctantly goes on a reality TV kids’ cooking show in the hopes that he can use the prize money to buy a doughnut-making robot to save his business and his new town. But the contest will test more than just his baking skills.
The best thing about this book is the characters. They’re vivid and interesting, especially Tris and his family. His dad speaks French when he gets angry and takes on crazy projects, such as trying to make maple syrup from sycamore trees. His mom, a professional chef, thinks baking is a more important life skill than swimming. His middle sister Jeanine is an academic superstar, and his youngest sister Zoe eats chocolate cream straight from the pastry gun. And Tris is one of those ordinary kids who ends up doing extraordinary things.
I recommend this book to kids who are foodies, bakers, entrepreneurs, or fans of fun stories. Just don’t read it when you’re hungry!
Thank you to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is May 7.
If you like time travel stories, Arthurian legends, or video games, then you should check out The Once and Future Geek, the first book in Mari Mancusi’s new series called The Camelot Code. It’s action-packed and funny.
Not only do Sophie and Stu, two modern day middle schoolers, travel back in time to Camelot, but a young Arthur and Guinevere also travel to the 21st century. This mixing of characters and time periods leads to some humorous moments. While Stu uses his video game skills to defeat challengers to the throne and defend Britain against the Saxons, Guinevere tries her first cherry Slurpee from 7-Eleven (and gets her first brain freeze!).
When Arthur learns from “the Google” how his story ends, he balks at returning to his own time. His actions in the present are starting to affect the fabric of time, though, threatening everything from Stu’s life to pepperoni pizza. To make matters worse, the evil Morgana wants to kill Arthur. It’s up to Sophie and Stu to save the day (with a little help from Merlin).
Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is November 20.
BOB by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead is a charming story about an almost 11-year-old girl and a small, green creature named Bob.
When Livy goes to visit her grandmother in Australia, she finds Bob in the closet. She’d forgotten all about him, but he’s been waiting for her since she last visited five years ago. He doesn’t remember how he got there, and he’s counting on her to help him find his way home.
The story is told from both Bob’s and Livy’s point of view as they try to solve the mystery of his presence on her grandmother’s farm. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I won’t say what kind of creature Bob actually is or where he’s from. You’ll just have to read the book!
Some of the things I liked best about this book are:
- Bob: Every kid should have a funny, thoughtful friend like Bob. He wears Livy’s old chicken PJs with some extra feathers taped on, he likes licorice and Legos, and he reads the dictionary.
- The Old Livy and the New Livy: Livy’s story starts like this:
“I feel bad that I can’t remember anything about Gran Nicholas’s house. On the table in her kitchen Gran has lined up three things I do not remember:
1. A green stuffed elephant in overalls.
2. A net bag full of black chess pieces.
3. A clunky old tape recorder.
‘You loved these things when you were here before,’ Gran Nicholas tells me.
But I don’t remember any of it.”
Livy’s grown up now–almost 11–different but still the same. And with Bob’s help, she rediscovers something about her fearless, fun-loving 5-year-old self.
- The Australian setting: From the drought-stricken farm to the chicken coop to Livy’s bedroom, the setting is vivid and interesting.
- These lines (from Bob’s point of view): “All the things I choose to put in my head are what makes me, me. I plan to choose wisely.”
BOB is a quick, easy read that would make a perfect first summer reading book. Larrabee has heard me talk about it so much that he’s been asking when he can read the book about the green creature. He recently read and enjoyed Wendy Mass’s Pi in the Sky.
Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book. It was published at the beginning of the month and is available in bookstores now.
Smack 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.
The 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.
The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis is a time travel story with a twist. Josie and Alec are both twelve years old. They both live at 444 Sparrow Street in the same small New York town. They communicate with each other all the time, but they’ve never met in person.
The reason: Alec lives in 2015, while Josie lives in 1915. They originally make contact through a ouija board belonging to Josie’s mother, a famous psychic medium, and they find a good friend in each other just when they need one the most.
I loved this book and read it in one sitting. I enjoy time travel stories and historical fiction, and this books has aspects of both.
Like the best time travel stories, The Boy from Tomorrow is intricately plotted with present events affecting past events. For example, Alec finds a letter from Josie hidden in his house and tells her about it, causing her to write the letter in the first place… Also, although Josie and Alec never travel to each other’s times, the books has fun time travel moments in which they get glimpses into each other’s worlds. For instance, Alec can use the internet to find New York Times headlines from 1915 (“magic” to Josie and “just technology” to Alec).
Like the best historical fiction, this book brings a past era to life. My favorite parts were the scenes featuring Josie, her little sister Cassie, and her tutor in 1915 New York.
Thank you to Amberjack Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is May 8.
Who would be brave enough to come to middle school dressed as a superhero–with a silver bathing suit, blue wig, red mask, and homemade cape? Who would be weird enough to call herself Captain Superlative? And who would be crazy enough to think that she could make all troubles disappear?
Jane doesn’t know. She herself tries to stay as invisible as air. Especially since the death of her mother four years earlier, she’s found that it’s safest not to stand out, not to be noticed, not to get involved.
But Jane is intrigued by Captain Superlative. She wants to know who she is. More importantly, she wants to know why she does what she does. The answers she finds, though, pull her out of her comfort zone.
Captain Superlative by J.S. Puller is a coming of age story–sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and sometimes sweet.
My favorite things about this book are:
- Jane’s point of view. Jane starts the story as an observer and bystander, and she only reluctantly takes on an active role. I love her description of Captain Superlative’s first visit to her home: “It was more like another story had just crashed into my book and the style of illustration was completely different. It was a surrealist drawing in the middle of my still life.”
- The relationship between Jane and her father. At school, she may be Plain Jane, but at home with her dad, she’s Janey! The two of them play a game where they think of synonyms that start with the same letter, and he provides her with gentle advice and support. The glimpses the reader gets of her at home make her public transformation more believable.
- Its message about empathy and kindness. Although the book depicts some bullying, Captain Superlative sets the example of reaching out to both the bully and the victim. The book shows that everyone has a story, and that treating others with thoughtfulness makes a difference.
Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. Its expected publication date is May 8.