MMGM: WILLA OF THE WOOD by Robert Beatty

willa

Title: Willa of the Wood

Author: Robert Beatty

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Publication Date: July 10, 2018

Publisher’s Description:

Move without a sound. Steal without a trace.

Willa, a young night-spirit, is her clan’s best thief. She creeps into the cabins of the day-folk under cover of darkness and takes what they won’t miss. It’s dangerous work–the day-folk kill whatever they don’t understand–but Willa will do anything to win the approval of the padaran, the charismatic leader of the Faeran people.

When Willa’s curiosity leaves her hurt and stranded in the day-folk world, she calls upon the old powers of her beloved grandmother, and the unbreakable bonds of her forest allies, to escape. Only then does she begin to discover the shocking truth: that not all of her day-folk enemies are the same, and that the foundations of her own Faeran society are crumbling. What do you do when you realize that the society you were born and raised in is rife with evil? Do you raise your voice? Do you stand up against it?

As forces of unfathomable destruction encroach on her forest home, Willa must decide who she truly is, facing deadly force with warmest compassion, sinister corruption with trusted alliance, and finding a home for her longing heart.

As a long-time Robert Beatty fan I was both anxious and excited to enter Willa’s world. Would I love it as much as Seraphina? Would I only be thinking of Seraphina and friend the whole time?

I’m happy to say that I did love this book and I once I started reading, I was fully immersed in this new world and didn’t look back once.

Beatty’s writing is captivating, with descriptions that make the reader feel they’re in the forest and I held my breath when Willa was trying to be silent. The tension was off the charts!

I know I did say I didn’t compare to Seraphina, because I didn’t, but if you loved how the supporting characters developed not only the main character but important elements of the story, then you’ll be charmed by this story as well. Each character, whether human, Faeran, or animal, play a key part.

WILLA IN THE WOODS checked off all my loves in a book: Magic, Mystery, Enchanting Setting, and Heart.

While the expected magic is in the witchcraft, the gorgeous magic is in the world itself, in the trees and the mountains and the animals. And it wouldn’t be a Beatty book without the suspense and twists and turns. This story is so appealing and encourages the reader to FEEL, but while I do say it has heart, it is expectedly a bit scary, dark, and violent, so I will put that out there.

It also teaches a lesson without beating the reader over the head with it. Willa is a feisty character who has been taught to think a certain way about many things. Her story can inspire readers that they’re never too young to find out who they are and develop their own beliefs in what is right and what is wrong. To be an accepting, caring person.

I’ve already passed this into a few young hands and expect to be handing it on for years to come.

MMGM: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS ALMANAC 2019

natgeo2019

Title: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC KIDS ALMANAC 2019

Publisher: National Geographic Society

Publication Date: May 8, 2018

Publisher’s Description:

The world’s best-selling almanac for kids is back and in demand! This year’s includes the latest information about what’s new and newsy in our world, special dates to anticipate, and fresh topics, and much more.

Have fun keeping up with our quickly changing world with the New York Times best-selling almanac, curated and created just for kids. It’s packed with incredible photos; tons of fun facts, crafts, and activities; and fascinating features about animals, science, nature, technology, and more. New features include an updated “Fun and Games” chapter filled with all-new games, jokes, and comics; all new weird-but-true facts; “19 Facts for 2019” feature in every chapter; updated reference material; and cool stuff on topics today’s curious kids care about.

To say my kids LOVE these almanacs is a huge understatement. They are more on the obsessed spectrum. They can’t wait for the next one to release and they will spend the whole summer reading it and creating all the fun the pages provide.

That’s why, as a mom, I love the National Geographic Kids Almanacs. They are informational, have amazing photography, provide activities for the kids (even recipes), include technological advances, and inspire hours of play beyond their pages.

The almanac covers animals from extinct species like dinosaurs to unheard of species kids can discover. There are quizzes and links to lead to more studying. My kids took this book to the aquarium, started a bug catching kit, and are begging for a pet after reading this.

One of my sons wants to be an inventor so the Cool Inventions section was super fun for him. The Inventions and Technology section also includes science experiments that kids can complete with minimal adult supervision.

I also really liked how the almanac inspired my kids to learn about places and people around the world. From food to customs, my kids are interested in places and cultures beyond their own.

And then they get to explore things out of this world. The space section is amazing. It has led our family to a few nights under the stars. Quality time + learning is always welcome in my book.

There is a new section in the almanac this year: The Fun and Games section. The jokes and games and comics were a big hit with my boys.

I could go on and on, but seriously, this book can take kids’ learning in so many directions. My kids talk about it when we’re camping, they learn U.S history, they learn how to read maps and want to travel the world.

This has been such a saving instrument in our summer fun.

MMGM: 15 Summer-themed Books

With summer coming up, I’ve been craving a middle-grade read set in the summer. Something about the adventure of it. Sometimes the mystery. Always the magic.

And these 15 books have all of these. They will get you ready for summer-or get you through the summer-with a smile on your face.

clatter

Publisher’s Description:

In this companion to A Tangle of Knots, it’s summertime and everyone is heading off to camp. For Talented kids, the place to be is Camp Atropos, where they can sing songs by the campfire, practice for the Talent show, and take some nice long dips in the lake. But what the kids don’t know is that they’ve been gathered for a reason–one that the camp’s director wants to keep hidden at all costs.

Meanwhile, a Talent jar that has been dropped to the bottom of the lake has sprung a leak, and strange things have begun to happen. Dozens of seemingly empty jars have been washing up on the shoreline, Talents have been swapped, and memories have been ripped from one camper’s head and placed into another. And no one knows why.

poppy2

Publisher’s Description:

Finding out you were wrong about something important can be a let down. But Poppy is pleased to learn she’s not just a Monday. She’s a Cusper, a weekday lucky enough to have TWO powers. Poppy’s elation is short-lived when she, Ellie, Logan, and Sam return to Power Academy as camp counselors, only to find themselves out of their element and struggling with the new drama teacher and his disaster of a school musical. When some campers go missing, Poppy and her team of weekdays are on the case. Soon, Poppy begins to realize that much like her powers, the seemingly-perfect town of Nova has some flaws, and the origin of her powers is as questionable as Headmistress Clothes-too-tight Larriby’s choice in outfits. If only there were more days in the week!

cosmos

Publisher’s Description:

11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like.

But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.

underdogs

Publisher’s Description:

Everyone has secrets…

Who killed Annabel Harper?

When a popular teen beauty’s body is discovered by the pool at an elite tennis club, the regulars are shocked—especially twelve-year-old Evie and her best friend, Chelsea. While everyone else is haunted by Annabel’s death, Evie and Chelsea jump on the case, dogging the footsteps of the lead detective as he investigates. As temperatures soar ver the summer, tensions rise, fingers are pointed, and a heroic act sets in motion a chain of events readers will never see coming.

summerlost

Publisher’s Description:

It’s the first real summer since the devastating accident that killed Cedar’s father and younger brother, Ben. But now Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.

Infused with emotion and rich with understanding, Summerlost is the touching middle grade debut from Ally Condie, the international bestselling author of the Matched series, that highlights the strength of family and personal resilience in the face of tragedy.

summerofsundays

Publisher’s Description:

When you’re the third of six kids, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle, but Sunday Fowler is determined that this summer she’ll find the one thing that makes her stand out from her siblings.

And when she discovers a silver box in the basement of the library her parents are renovating, she might just have found something to gain her the attention she so craves. Inside is a series of letters addressed to “The Librarian” and a manuscript. But who wrote them? With the help of annoying neighbor-turned-new-friend Jude, Sunday is determined to track down the author. And when she unveils this novel to the world, she’ll be famous!

But uncovering this manuscript means stirring up secrets that some people in the town hoped to keep buried. And Sunday must decide if some things — loyalty, trust, friendship — are worth more than her name in the headlines.

experiment

Publisher’s Experiment:

A boring summer vacation turns unexpectedly interesting when mysterious lights appear over Roberta’s hometown in northern Maine. Roberta is convinced she and her best friend Marillee can win the Maine State Science Fair if only they can find an amazing project to showcase. Communicating with aliens would certainly do the trick. But in order to win they’ll need to defeat their chief competitor, “The 4H’s of the Apocalypse”: Henry Horton Harris Helmsby.

This is a story told in a distinctive voice that is by turns funny, exciting, and sometimes heartbreaking.

justlikeme

Publisher’s Description:

Who eats Cheetos with chopsticks?! Avery and Becca, my “Chinese Sisters,” that’s who. We’re not really sisters—we were just adopted from the same orphanage. And we’re nothing alike. They sing Chinese love songs on the bus to summer camp, and I pretend like I don’t know them.

To make everything worse, we have to journal about our time at camp so the adoption agency can do some kind of “where are they now” newsletter. I’ll tell you where I am: At Camp Little Big Woods in a cabin with five other girls who aren’t getting along, competing for a campout and losing (badly), wondering how I got here…and where I belong.

treehouse

Publisher’s Description:

Kids vs. parents! An epic treehouse sleepover! An awesome group of friends! An exciting new book from National Book Award finalist Lisa Graff.

Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie s parents got divorced, the day they decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse smack between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly between them. It was the day Winnie s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew and grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.

By the end of fifth grade, Winnie decides that the only way to change things is to barricade herself in her treehouse until her parents come to their senses and her friends decide to join her. It s kids versus grown-ups, and no one wants to back down first. But with ten kids in one treehouse, all with their own demands, Winnie discovers that things can get pretty complicated pretty fast! Even if they are having the most epic slumber party ever.

In the newest novel by beloved National Book Award finalist Lisa Graff, kids have turned the tables on their parents, and all the rules have been tossed out the window. But does Winnie have what it takes to hold her ground and keep everyone happy?

hellouniverse

Publisher’s Description:

Newbery Medalist Erin Entrada Kelly’s Hello, Universe is a funny and poignant neighborhood story about unexpected friendships.

Told from four intertwining points of view—two boys and two girls—the novel celebrates bravery, being different, and finding your inner bayani (hero). “Readers will be instantly engrossed in this relatable neighborhood adventure and its eclectic cast of misfits.”—Booklist

In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his crazy-about-sports family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and she loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister, Gen, is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just stop being so different so he can concentrate on basketball.

They aren’t friends, at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms.

matchstick

Publisher’s Description:

Brian can think of a few places he’d rather spend his summer than with his aunt and uncle in Boring, Illinois. Jail, for example. Or an earplug factory. Anything would be better than doing summer school on a computer while his scientist dad is stationed at the South Pole.
 
Boring lives up to its name until Brian and his cousin Nora have a fight, get lost, and discover a huge, wooden house in the forest. With balconies, turrets, and windows seemingly stuck on at random, it looks ready to fall over in the next stiff breeze. To the madcap, eccentric family that lives inside, it’s not just a home—it’s a castle. 
 
Suddenly, summer gets a lot more exciting. With their new friends, Brian and Nora tangle with giant wasps, sharp-tusked wild boars, and a crazed bureaucrat intent on bringing the dangerously dilapidated old house down with a wrecking ball.
 
This funny, fantastical story will resonate with any reader who’s ever wished a little adventure would find them.

listenslowly

Publisher’s Description:

A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, though, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

rambler

Publisher’s Description:

Garland, Derby, and Triple Clark spend each season traveling highways and byways in their Rambler—until summer, when small-town Ridge Creek, Virginia, calls them back. There they settle in, selling burgers and fries out of Garland’s Grill after each game the Rockskippers play in their battered minor-league baseball stadium. Derby’s summer traditions bring her closer than she’s ever been to a real home that isn’t on wheels, but this time, her return to Ridge Creek reveals unwelcome news. Now the person Derby loves most in town needs her help—and yet finding a way to do so may uncover deeply held stories and secrets.
 
Told in Derby’s unforgettable voice, this warm-hearted debut novel is about taking risks, planting roots, and discovering the true definition of home.

short

Publisher’s Description:

In this heartwarming, funny middle-grade novel by the bestselling author of Counting by 7s, Julia grows into herself while playing a Munchkin in a production of  The Wizard of Oz
 
Julia is very short for her age, but by the end of the summer run of The Wizard of Oz, she’ll realize how big she is inside, where it counts. She hasn’t ever thought of herself as a performer, but when the wonderful director of Oz casts her as a Munchkin, she begins to see herself in a new way. Julia becomes friendly with the poised and wise Olive–one of the adults with dwarfism who’ve joined the production’s motley crew of Munchkins. With her deeply artistic neighbor, Mrs. Chang, Julia’s own sense of self as an artist grows. Soon, she doesn’t want to fade into the background–and it’s a good thing, because her director has more big plans for Julia!
 
Bubbling over with humor and tenderness, while emphasizing the importance of role models, this is an irresistible story of self-discovery.

tumbleblue

Publisher’s Description:

he magic-infused story of a golden gator, two cursed kids, and how they take their destinies into their own hands.

When the red moon rises over the heart of the Okefenokee swamp, legend says that the mysterious golden gator Munch will grant good luck to the poor soul foolish enough to face him.

But in 1817, when TWO fools reach him at the same time, the night’s fate is split. With disastrous consequences for both . . . and their descendants. Half of the descendants have great fates, and the other half have terrible ones.

Now, Tumble Wilson and Blue Montgomery are determined to fix their ancestors’ mistakes and banish the bad luck that’s followed them around for all of their lives. They’re going to face Munch the gator themselves, and they’re going to reclaim their destinies.

But what if the legend of Munch is nothing but a legend, after all?

Wonderful YA Wednesday: NOTHING BUT SKY by Amy Trueblood

nothingbutsky

Title: NOTHING BUT SKY

Author: Amy Trueblood

Publisher: Flux

Publication Date: March 27th, 2018

Publisher’s Description:

A 2018 Junior Library Guild selection.

“Trueblood’s action-packed first novel explores the post-World War I époque with visceral period detail, and Grace’s ambition carries the story about fighting for one’s dreams, seeking stability in some form, and a team becoming a family.” —Publishers Weekly

Grace Lafferty only feels alive when she’s dangling 500 feet above ground. As a post-World War I wing walker, Grace is determined to get to the World Aviation Expo, proving her team’s worth against flashier competitors and earning a coveted Hollywood contract.

No one’s ever questioned Grace’s ambition until Henry Patton, a mechanic with plenty of scars from the battlefield, joins her barnstorming team. With each new death-defying trick, Henry pushes Grace to consider her reasons for being a daredevil. Annoyed with Henry’s constant interference, and her growing attraction to him, Grace continues to test the powers of the sky.

After one of her risky maneuvers saves a pilot’s life, a Hollywood studio offers Grace a chance to perform at the Expo. She jumps at the opportunity to secure her future. But when a stunt goes wrong, Grace must decide whether Henry, and her life, are worth risking for one final trick.

I’ve been saving this post for today because I’ve been following Amy Trueblood on social media and her BLOG for years. She is a light in the publishing community and gives so much to those around her. I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for what feels like forever.

She had an event near me last weekend and I was planning to go and talk about how wonderful it (and she) was in this post along with my review. And then something came up last minute and I wasn’t able to go and I was so let down.

I hope to be able to get to another event of hers in the future, but I still want to review and highly recommend this book.

I am a big fan of YA historical fiction and an even bigger fan of YA historical fiction that feels different from others. NOTHING BUT SKY is full of history, action, character depth, inspiration, and Trueblood’s talented way with words.

I don’t know much about this era, so I loved the immersion into the time-period and was swept away. Everything from the clothing to the way of speech was so fun to read. All of the character’s lives were formed by what was going on at that time and it felt so genuine. And I know some people see the word history and think boring, but oh my goodness, this story was so the opposite.

It was riveting through each page but also had those tender lines that made you feel and grow as a person.

I loved Grace. I could never do what she did, I am not a dare-devil. But she did it so well and it really played in to her character arc to spread her wings and be daring in other areas that maybe aren’t so easy for her.

And the way Henry fits into her storyline only makes her stronger and brings a smile to my face.

This story inspires readers to be brave and follow dreams and to get through life when plans aren’t what you thought they were.

Such a gem of a story and I couldn’t be happier to recommend.

MMGM: THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER by Diane Magras

madwolf

Title: THE  MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER

Author: Diane Magras

Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books

Publication Date: March 6, 2018

Publisher’s Description:

A New York Times Editors’ Choice

“[I]t’s clear we’re in the hands of a master storyteller….’The Mad Wolf’s Daughter’ feels like an instant classic.’”
— Soman Chainani, New York Times

A Scottish medieval adventure about the youngest in a war-band who must free her family from a castle prison after knights attack her home.

One dark night, Drest’s sheltered life on a remote Scottish headland is shattered when invading knights capture her family, but leave Drest behind. Her father, the Mad Wolf of the North, and her beloved brothers are a fearsome war-band, but now Drest is the only one who can save them. So she starts off on a wild rescue attempt, taking a wounded invader along as a hostage.

Hunted by a bandit with a dark link to her family’s past, aided by a witch whom she rescues from the stake, Drest travels through unwelcoming villages, desolate forests, and haunted towns. Every time she faces a challenge, her five brothers speak to her in her mind about courage and her role in the war-band. But on her journey, Drest learns that the war-band is legendary for terrorizing the land. If she frees them, they’ll not hesitate to hurt the gentle knight who’s become her friend.

Drest thought that all she wanted was her family back; now she has to wonder what their freedom would really mean. Is she her father’s daughter or is it time to become her own legend?

This is the book I would’ve read and re-read over and over as a child. It makes the adventurous, sword-wielding girl in my heart happy. There was so much to love about this book.

The setting is gorgeous. From the first page, the reader feels like they are in medieval Scotland and the descriptions are beautiful and detailed. I wanted to live there. I felt like I traveled through the villages and forests and towns.

Drest is a fiery girl with a lot of sense and heart. She can defend herself but she thinks about things. She is bold but she is kind. She loves her family and she loves her land. So much depth for a middle grade main character and Magras does an excellent job of filling her out while still making her believably young.

I also love a book with different sorts of villains. Yes there was the bandit, but there was also war, and doubt, and fear. A child’s villains aren’t just people in their lives ,and this book handles it so well.

It has a classic feel that will last through the years but is fresh with ideas that are important to today’s youth.

Highly recommend for young readers both boys and girls.

 

Wonderful YA Wednesday: SUMMER OF BROKEN THINGS by Margaret Peterson Haddix

summerofbrokenthings

Title: Summer of Broken Things

Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: April 11, 2018

Publisher’s Description:

Fourteen-year-old Avery Armisted is athletic, rich, and pretty. Sixteen-year-old Kayla Butts is known as “butt-girl” at school. The two girls were friends as little kids, but that’s ancient history now. So it’s a huge surprise when Avery’s father offers to bring Kayla along on a summer trip to Spain. Avery is horrified that her father thinks he can choose her friends—and make her miss soccer camp. Kayla struggles just to imagine leaving the confines of her small town.

But in Spain, the two uncover a secret their families had hidden from both of them their entire lives. Maybe the girls can put aside their differences and work through it together. Or maybe the lies and betrayal will only push them—and their families—farther apart.

There were a few things that intrigued me about this book. The title was gorgeous. The premise was a mix of the well-known plot of enemies forced together and twists that made it original and so much better than that YA trope.

As with the premise, I thought the characters would be stereotypical as well. The whiny rich girl, the sullen not-so-rich girl wanting to escape her life. And while they started out that way, Haddix only uses these stereotypes to show her character’s growth and to surprise the reader later. Especially with Kayla, who is the more likeable and shows the most progression.

The setting was also a nice change. So many things are used to keep these girls out of their comfort zone and keep the story fresh. Adding a foreign country into the mix added a richness to the story and a few plot twists.

The prose was well-written and the message of being grateful for what you have and overcoming obstacles was integrated well. I especially liked that it had no violence, swearing, or sexual content so if you have a young reader that reads up to YA, this would be a clean choice.

 

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Middle Grade Roundup

shadow weaver

Title: Shadow Weaver

Author: MarcyKate Connolly

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Publication Date: January 2, 2018

Publishers Description:

Fans of Serafina and the Black Cloak and The Night Gardener will devour Shadow Weaver, the first in a dark middle-grade fantasy duology that’s filled with shadows, danger, magic, and has the feel of a new classic.

Emmeline’s gift of controlling shadows has isolated her from the rest of the world, but she’s grown to be content, hidden away in her mansion with Dar, her own shadow, as her only company.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.

I was immediately drawn to this story because of its cover and premise, and I wasn’t let down when I finally got to sit down and read it.

The writing style was both lyrical and simple enough for reluctant readers. Fans of Connolly will embrace the familiarity in the style and the dark  but magical quality in every word and plot choice.

Emmeline is a flawed character, but one to root for. Her relationship with Dar, and the idea of a battle between darkness and light, isn’t a new idea, but it’s an important one I love seeing in middle grade, this fresh take on displaying this theme was well done. I especially liked Lucas and Emmeline together. Following them through their adventures kept the pages turning all the way to the satisfying, but teasing, conclusion.

tessoftheroad

Title: Tess of the Road

Author: Rachel Hartman

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: February 27, 2018

Publisher’s Description:

In the medieval kingdom of Goredd, women are expected to be ladies, men are their protectors, and dragons get to be whomever they want. Tess, stubbornly, is a troublemaker. You can’t make a scene at your sister’s wedding and break a relative’s nose with one punch (no matter how pompous he is) and not suffer the consequences. As her family plans to send her to a nunnery, Tess yanks on her boots and sets out on a journey across the Southlands, alone and pretending to be a boy.

Where Tess is headed is a mystery, even to her. So when she runs into an old friend, it’s a stroke of luck. This friend is a quigutl–a subspecies of dragon–who gives her both a purpose and protection on the road. But Tess is guarding a troubling secret. Her tumultuous past is a heavy burden to carry, and the memories she’s tried to forget threaten to expose her to the world in more ways than one.

Right away I loved the folk tale feel of this story. It pulled me in and felt classic and fresh all at once. As a Seraphina fan I was eagerly awaiting my chance to dive into this story. But to be clear, while Tess is set in the same world, all of the characters are new and this story feels much heavier and darker.

There is so much to love about this story. Hartman’s writing is, as always, on point. This book is not for the reluctant reader though because the prose and the fantastical elements are not simple or easy, which isn’t a good or bad thing, just something I feel should be mentioned in a review for young readers.

The messages in this book are quite mature, but not ones children shouldn’t be aware of. I think readers of all ages will root for Tess in all of her complexity and vulnerability, and get lost in her quest and adventure. Tess grows as a character and like any good middle grade protagonist, she needs to discover her strengths and weaknesses and put them together to become the person she was meant to be.

I love this world and this new important story that has been told within it.

onceyouknow

Title: Once You Know This

Author: Emily Blejwas

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: September 19, 2017

Publisher’s Description:

A girl wishes for a better life for herself, her mom, and her baby brother and musters the courage to make it happen in this moving and emotionally satisfying story for readers of Kate DiCamillo and Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

Eleven-year-old Brittany knows there has to be a better world out there. Lately, though, it sure doesn’t feel like it. She and her best friend, Marisol, stick together at school, but at home Brittany’s granny is sick, her cat is missing, there’s never any money, and there’s her little brother, Tommy, to worry about. Brittany has a hard time picturing her future as anything but a plain white sky. If her life is going to ever change, she needs a plan. And once she starts believing in herself, Brittany realizes that what has always seemed out of reach might be just around the corner.

This debut novel by Emily Blejwas is perfect for readers who love emotionally satisfying books. Thoughtful and understated, it’s the hopeful story of a girl who struggles to make her future bright . . . and the makeshift family that emerges around her.

It’s no secret I’m a fan of middle grade that addresses tough issues but inspire hope at the same time. This book checks off all the boxes of what makes a compelling story for me: Lovable characters, real-life issues, real-life reactions, lovely prose, messages about believing in your dreams and finding yourself.

While the content may be tough for some young readers, with the proper conversations with trusted adults, there are important lessons to be learned.

I loved this heart-warming story and am inclined to pick up any future book by this author.

theexactlocation

Title: The Exact Location of Home

Author: Kate Messner

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children

Publication Date: September 12, 2017

Publisher’s Description:

Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are, after all, much more predictable than most people–especially his father, who he hasn’t seen in over a year. When his dad’s latest visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo–a garage sale GPS unit–for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues around town to explain his absence, Zig sets out to find him. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon discovers that people aren’t always what they seem . . . and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home.

An important story of love and hope that will capture readers’ hearts, The Exact Location of Home is another must read from beloved author Kate Messner.

I haven’t picked up a Kate Messner book that I didn’t like, that’s why it’s funny I didn’t pick this one up when it first came out years ago. But I’m so glad I found it this time around. This story has all the elements I love about a Messner story and so much more.

My boys are obsessed with the geocaching right now, so it was fun to see the theme of this story advanced through this device. Zig was such a lovable little guy with so many qualities that made him feel real, and not created. I wanted him to be safe in his secret and to find everything he was looking for.

Again, there are some tough topic involved, but I don’t think they are insensitively handled or unnecessarily told. This story stole my heart and will definitely be one I re-read in the future.

starsbeneathourfeet

Title: Stars Beneath Our Feet

Author: David Barclay Moore

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

Publication Date: September 17, 2017

Publisher’s Description:

It’s Christmas Eve in Harlem, but twelve-year-old Lolly Rachpaul and his mom aren’t celebrating. They’re still reeling from his older brother’s death in a gang-related shooting just a few months earlier. Then Lolly’s mother’s girlfriend brings him a gift that will change everything: two enormous bags filled with Legos. Lolly’s always loved Legos, and he prides himself on following the kit instructions exactly. Now, faced with a pile of building blocks and no instructions, Lolly must find his own way forward.
His path isn’t clear–and the pressure to join a “crew,” as his brother did, is always there. When Lolly and his friend are beaten up and robbed, joining a crew almost seems like the safe choice. But building a fantastical Lego city at the community center provides Lolly with an escape–and an unexpected bridge back to the world.

Oh my goodness, this book made me FEEL so many things. I think it’s so important for middle grade books to both allow the reader to see themselves in it and introduce them to parts of the world and humanity that will make them a better person. This book does both.

Oh, Lolly. I wanted to hug him through the whole book … but he didn’t need me to, and that was part of his greatness. He navigated his trials and came out way better than I would have in his position.

The way the author balances tough topics with things a lot of kids can relate to as an escape (like Legos) was a brilliant touch.

Moore constructed his plot and paced it in a way so the reader worked through the pages the way Lolly built his creations. The dialogue was realistic and the bits of humor in the heaviness of the subject-matter was well-done.

Definitely one I’d recommend to the middle grade readers I know.