The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz is a charming and original fantasy for middle grade readers.
Twelve-year-old Clementine Morcerous is the only child of the Dark Lord Elithor. She lives all alone with her father in Castle Brack and spends her days learning dark magic and tending to the fire-breathing chickens and the poison apple orchard on the silent farm.
Then, her father is cursed by the Witch of the Woods. As he grows weaker, more and more tasks fall to Clementine. She has to keep the castle running all by herself, satisfy the Council of Evil Overlords’ Dastardly Deeds quota, and try to save her father’s life. In the process, though, Clementine makes friends for the first time in her life and starts to question whether she even wants to be a Dark Lord.
This story has many of the elements you’d expect in a fantasy, such as witches, knights, villagers, a Lady of the Lake, and a unicorn. And it has unexpected elements too. My favorite is the Gricken, the Morcerous family grimoire that has been transformed into a chicken and lays spells in the form of eggs.
Larrabee and I both recommend it!
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
Feather of Truth
Crook and Flail
The Serpent’s Shadow
After Larrabee finished Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles trilogy, we took a trip to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose. I highly recommend both!
The books, The Red Pyramid, The Throne of Fire, and The Serpent’s Shadow, make great summer reading books. They have action, danger, humor, and lots of ancient Egyptian gods. Carter and Sadie Kane take turns telling the stories. They’re brother and sister, descendants of powerful Egyptian magicians from the House of Life. Fans of Riordan’s Percy Jackson series will like these books too.
It’s always satisfying to find connections between books and real life. Some of my favorites from our museum visit:
- “So that’s what a crook and flail look like!”
- “That must be Tawaret!”
- “Shabtis are real!”
We also found an oversized Senet game, scarab amulets, hieroglyphs, a panel depicting the judging of a soul with the feather of truth, a replica of the Rosetta Stone, and statues of many Egyptian gods who make an appearance in the books. It felt like a treasure hunt.
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!
Tumble & 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.
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)!”
Larrabee and I LOVED Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend. I read it aloud in huge chunks during Winter Break, stopping only for the occasional coffee break to soothe my tired throat.
Almost-eleven-year-old Morrigan Crow is a cursed child. For her whole life, she’s been blamed for everything from fire damage to spoiled marmalade. Worse yet, she’s doomed to die on Eventide.
But then she gets a second chance at life. Jupiter North arrives just ahead of the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow and sneaks her into the magical city of Nevermoor. There’s she’s introduced to the Brolly Rail, a Magnificat, and a hotel room that adapts to her wishes. She also learns that she’s a candidate for entry to the Wundrous Society. The only trouble is that she must compete against more than five hundred other children in four difficult trials. And just nine will be selected.
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow combines engaging characters, a delightful setting, and fast-paced action. It’s the first book in a planned series, and Larrabee and I are eagerly awaiting the next installment.
Larrabee and I recently read Ingrid Law‘s Savvy aloud together. We found it to be quirky and fun.
Savvy is the story of Mississippi (“Mibs”) Beaumont. Mibs is about to turn 13. When she does, she’ll discover her “savvy,” her special supernatural power. Everyone in her family has one. Her grandfather can move mountains and her brother can create hurricanes.
Then her father gets in a car accident and ends up in the hospital. Mibs is sure that with her new savvy, she can save her father. So, she sneaks away from her birthday party and onto a salesman’s bus along with two of her brothers and two other kids. But the bus heads in the wrong direction and the adventure begins…
Larrabee says if he could choose his savvy, he’d want it to be telekinesis. What would yours be?
‘Tis the season for… Christmas specials. This year, in addition to our usual favorites, Larrabee and I have started a new tradition. We’re reading aloud the original version of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and watching some of its many adaptations.
So far, we’ve watched Mickey’s Christmas Carol, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol. What’s next? Bugs Bunny? The Flintstones? Sesame Street? Let us know if you have a recommendation.
As with all adaptations, it’s fun to see the differences between the book and the movies and between the different movie interpretations. And as with all Christmas specials, it’s nice to be reminded of the spirit of Christmas.
A Merry Christmas to us all, and God bless us every one!
If you’re still looking for a present for a young book lover, check out Ban This Book by Alan Gratz. Larrabee and I read it aloud over the Thanksgiving break. I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.
Ban This Book is the story of Amy Anne Ollinger, a 4th grader who never speaks up for herself. Not at school where her classmates see her as a bookish mouse. And not at home where her two younger sisters’ needs always come first. She spends as much time as possible in the corner of the school library where she can read in peace.
Then, one day, the school board removes several books from the library–including her favorite book (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler). Amy Anne, in a private act of rebellion, resolves to read all of the books on the banned list. But as she collects the books, she finds that her friends are interested in them too. So she starts a Banned Books Locker Library and finds herself speaking out against censorship.
You have to like a book that teaches kids about the First Amendment, features a school visit from author Dav Pilkey, and mentions lots and lots of good books.
R.J. Palacio‘s Wonder was the best book to read aloud and also the worst.
Larrabee and I borrowed it from from Blaine this fall because we knew the movie was coming out in November, and we always try to read the book first.
Auggie Pullman has a congenital facial deformity, and because of his health problems, he’s been home schooled until now. Wonder is the story of his 5th grade year, his first one in school, told through the points of view of Auggie, his sister, and several other kids.
It was the worst book for me to read aloud because it made me cry. And I don’t mean just a few sniffles over one sad scene. Sometimes Larrabee worried that we’d never get through the whole book.
But it was also the best book for me to read aloud. It sparked great conversations about empathy, about being different, about challenges and blessings, and about being kind. At the end, after all the tears, the book made me smile.
For those of you who want to read more about Auggie, R.J. Palacio has written three more stories from the points of view of Julian (his main tormentor), Christopher (his oldest friend), and Charlotte (a 5th grade classmate), collected in a book called Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories.
And we saw the movie adaptation last week. It’s very good too.