Tuesday, August 27, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: Goodbye Friend! Hello, Friend!/Just For Me


Change and transitions are hard, but Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend! demonstrates how, when one experience ends, it opens the door for another to begin. It follows two best friends as they say goodbye to snowmen, and hello to stomping in puddles. They say goodbye to long walks, butterflies, and the sun...and hello to long evening talks, fireflies, and the stars. But the hardest goodbye of all comes when one of the friends has to move away. Feeling alone isn't easy, and sometimes new beginnings take time. But even the hardest days come to an end, and you never know what tomorrow will bring.


As with The Rabbit Listened, Cori Doerrfeld has written a sweet story that tugs at the heart strings.  Here is the story of two friends meeting for the first time, learning to accept the goodbyes and hellos of life together, before having to say goodbye for good when one moves away.  Somehow Doerrfeld manages to capture the bittersweet nature of life in this book.  Saying goodbye to things we love isn't easy, and neither is facing new, uncertain beginnings but as this book so clearly shows, there is always hope for something new and wonderful to say hello to. In a world where it is so easy to focus on the negative and the losses, this book reminds us to grieve the losses yes, but to look forward with optimism and hope to the joys of the future.  A delightful and powerful book that reminds us all, old and young of the power of friendship and the joys that can come when we open ourselves up to the possibilities of the future. 


When Ruby has something special, she likes to say "just for me!"

That includes everything from her dolly to the colorful candy sprinkles she uses to decorate her cookies. But when a friend comes over for playtime, Ruby takes her mantra just one step too far, and a precious toy is broken. Just when it looks like playtime has been ruined, Ruby realizes that having a friend is much more fun than having everything to herself.

"Sharing is caring" has never felt so spot-on as it does in Just For Me. With sparse text and bright, bold illustrations, this is the perfect story for parents to share with their little readers--and for readers to share with their friends! 


Learning to share can be difficult, especially for toddlers and preschoolers.  This book shows through the actions of a young girl named Ruby how that can be so.  Ruby loves to keep her beloved toys and favorite activities just for herself.  But when her friend comes to play, she struggles to share the 'good' stuff with her friend.  Disaster results when a toy is broken in the struggle and Ruby's dad reminds her that friends share with each other.  The large text and illustrations are perfect for sharing with a group and the simplicity of the story makes it great for preschoolers.  It's human nature to keep things to ourselves, we all have to learn to let go in order to create and maintain relationships.  This book demonstrates that theme very nicely.

Monday, August 26, 2019

MMGM: Charlie Thorne and the last Equation by Stuart Gibbs


Throughout history, the greatest scientists — Einstein, Darwin, Gallileo, Newton — have made discoveries that were too dangerous to trust humanity with, so they hid them. The CIA — and many other people — have been searching for these for decades to no avail.

But now, an evil organization is closing in on the most dangerous discovery of all — an equation developed by Albert Einstein himself that could destroy the world. Desperate, the CIA has no choice but to recruit the most brilliant person they can find to help them: A twelve-year-old genius named Charlie Thorne.

The catch: Charlie isn’t like any genius you’ve ever encountered before. She’s a daredevil. A troublemaker. And possibly a criminal.

Now, Charlie finds herself unwillingly dragged into a perilous mission that will take her from the ski slopes of Colorado to the tundra of Greenland to the secret tunnels underneath Jerusalem. Along the way, she’ll have to crack a series of clues left by Einstein himself. She’ll have no idea who to trust. And her life will be in constant jeopardy.

But she’ll have to survive. Because she’s the only one who can save the world.


Having read a number of Stuart Gibbs books, I was intrigued when I heard about this one.  The description of  twelve-year-old Charlie Thorne as both a genius and a thief caused me to raise my eyebrows.  Definitely a different sort of main character.  So I eagerly picked up the book and read it.  And I was not disappointed.  Gibbs takes the reader on quite the ride along with Charlie and her CIA companions.  Charlie isn't entirely likable at first, at least I didn't find her so, even though her intelligence and abilities are impressive.  She isn't really using her abilities in a productive way, mostly she's using them to skim through her college courses, and manipulate others.  But later in the story after I read her backstory it became clear why Charlie behaves this way.  If my parents simply used me to try to make money or get famous I'd probably be self-protective and cynical as well.  On top of that is her bitterness toward the company she sent a computer program to, only to have them steal the software and make millions off it.  However her stealing from the company and basically ruining them in the process wasn't really the best response.  And it's that choice that gets her pulled into the search for Pandora.

Pandora is a supposed equation created by Albert Einstein that supposedly presents a shortcut to creating energy.  An incredibly valuable item, if it exists.  After seventy years of searching in vain, the CIA is desperate enough to blackmail Charlie into helping them find the equation.  Especially since a terrorist group called the Furies is out to find and exploit the equation as well.  Charlie agrees to help, reluctantly, but she has her own plans related to the equation, she just has to survive in order to do so.

There is much excitement as Charlie faces off with both the CIA and the Furies in a struggle to survive long enough to find the equation.  She makes both good and bad decisions that heavily effect the outcome.  There's plenty of science thrown in along with background about Einstein (although how much of this is actually true, I don't know, but Gibbs makes it believable enough for the reader to buy into the story, despite the fabricated parts).   I did find myself rooting for Charlie as things heated up and she struggled with both the difficulties before her and her own personal choices.    I found it fascinating to follow along as she struggles to work through the little information available to try to figure out where Einstein hid the equation.  There is a decent among of information included involving math, physics, and Einstein himself.  I found that fascinating but not all young readers will, those who do will be enthralled with Charlie's brilliance and her courage in finding something to care more about than herself for the first time.

A fascinating new book in a series that I look forward to reading more of.  I do look forward to reading about Charlie again as she wrestles with some truly immense challenges.

Friday, August 23, 2019

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: The Storm Runner by J.C. Cervantes


Zane has always enjoyed exploring the dormant volcano near his home in New Mexico, even though hiking it is challenging. He'd much rather hang out there with his dog, Rosie, than go to middle school, where kids call him Sir Limps a Lot, McGimpster, or Uno — for his one good leg. What Zane doesn't know is that the volcano is a gateway to another world and he is at the center of a powerful prophecy.

A new girl at school, Brooks, informs him that he's destined to release an evil god from the ancient Maya relic he is imprisoned in — unless she can find and remove it first. Together they return to the volcano, where all kinds of crazy happens. Brooks turns into a hawk, a demon attacks them in a cave, and Rosie gives her all while trying to protect Zane. When Zane decides to save his dog no matter the cost, he is thrust into an adventure full of surprising discoveries, dangerous secrets, and an all-out war between the gods, one of whom happens to be his father. To survive, Zane will have to become the Storm Runner. But how can he run when he can't even walk well without a cane?

Feisty heroes, tricky gods, murderous demons, and spirited giants are just some of the pleasures that await in this fresh and funny take on Maya mythology, as rich and delicious as a mug of authentic hot chocolate.


With Percy Jackson's story a perennial favorite in my library, I was thrilled to hear about this line of books being published under an Rick Riordan imprint.  Expectations don't always get met however so I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up The Storm Runner.  I am happy to say that young fantasy lovers who adore the Percy Jackson stories (found in Rick Riordan's series Percy Jackson and the Olympians) are likely to enjoy this series as well.  Just as Percy gets in a tremendous amount of trouble, so does Zane.  Zane, also like Percy, doesn't know who his father is as the story opens, nor does he know that he's to play a major role in a Mayan prophecy.  He just wants to get along at school, and enjoy roaming a nearby volcano with his dog, Rosie.  But his limp makes both of those things difficult. When he meets a girl named Brooks, he finds out about the prophecy and his role in it which complicates his life tremendously, especially when he ends up having to make a deal with the god of death.  Unfortunately, unless he finds a way to get rid of the god of death, he is doomed to a very unpleasant future.  With his Uncle Hondo and Brooks along for the ride, he sets out to try to find a way to accomplish a seemingly impossible task.  

Once Zane meets Brooks the story picks up.  Once he meets the god of death, things speed up even more and Zane runs from one disaster to the next, hoping that somehow, he can survive, save the world, and see his mother again.  He's not real thrilled to finally meet his father, who turns out to be a Mayan god who broke a sacred oath.  But without his father's help, he may not survive at all.  Dealing with his feelings toward his father, Brooks, and the knowledge that he's a 'godborn' threaten to derail his efforts to defeat Al Puch (the god of death).  But there may be more to being a godborn than Zane realizes and just maybe, there's more to him than he ever dreamed.

I enjoyed the adventure of this story and the twists and turns that take place.  Just when it seemed the story was heading in one direction, there was a twist and it took off in another direction.  Middle grade readers who enjoy plot-directed stories are bound to get a kick out of this one.  While there is character development as Zane tries to come to terms with who he is as well as his relationships with Brooks and his father, the dominant element here is the compelling plot.  Kids who know and like Percy are bound to like snarky Zane as well.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

SERIES THURSDAY: Survivor Diaries: Dust Storm/Unicorn and Yeti : A Good Team


Stranded after a dust storm hits in a desert in New Mexico, sixth-graders Jen and Martin must call upon real-life skills to come to the rescue. When disaster strikes, they will have to use all their knowledge and grit to survive.


In this fourth book in the Survivor Diaries series, Jen and Martin leave the geocaching group they are with in an effort to get to the cache first.  But when they get caught in a sandstorm they become lost and disoriented.  The fact that they used to be friends and aren't any more doesn't help them work together, especially when Jen senses Martin's competitiveness.  But in order to survive long enough to get help, they must put their differences aside and work together to survive.  This series makes for an action-packed adventure for young middle grade readers who like stories that move along quickly.  Johnson does a great job of establishing the setting and situation quickly by starting the story with the main character being interviewed by a reporter.  Not only is the book an entertaining read, but there are survival tips from the New Mexico Search and Rescue Council included to help young readers understand what the characters did right and wrong on their adventure.  A fun series for young survivalists. 


 Yeti is good at kicking the ball.
Unicorn cannot kick the ball.

Unicorn is good at running races.
Yeti cannot run fast.

Unicorn and Yeti play ring toss, run a race, and go ice skating. These laugh-out-loud stories with full-color artwork and easy-to-read text throughout are perfect for new readers!


This delightful addition to Scholastic's new Unicorn and Yeti series lets readers see the ins and outs of a rather unusual friendship.  Unicorn and Yeti enjoy different activities but want to share their fun with each other.  The problem is that what works for Yeti, doesn't necessarily work really well for Unicorn.  For example, Yeti likes throwing a ball, but Unicorn has a hard time catching it until it gets stuck on her horn.  How can they enjoy the same activities when their abilities are so very different?  It was fun to read about how they compromised an found new activities to do together in order to make their playing together work.  The illustrations are bright and colorful.  A real winner of a series. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

PICTURE BOOK REVIEWS: SuperBuns!/If I Built a School


Some superheroes can leap tall buildings in a single bound, some can crawl up a wall, some grow wolfsharp claws, and some have superhuman speed. And Superbuns? Her superpower is being kind. Super kind. She can’t help but be kind: watering a neighbor’s daisies; helping a friend cross the street; feeding a hungry goldfish.

Superbuns’s older sister Blossom is a super know-it-all who doesn’t believe kindness is a superpower. Not one bit. And all this kindness is slowing them down on their way to Grammy’s house, where a yummy carrot cobbler awaits.

But the sisters are being followed by a little fox, and when Blossom learns the fox is not after their cobbler but is lost, she discovers kindness really is a superpower after all.


 This adorable book follows the adventures of young Superbuns and her sister, Blossom.  Superbuns calls herself that because she reaches out to help with her superpower : kindness.  Unfortunately, Superbuns' sister, Blossom, a bit of a know-it-all, chatterbox, informs Superbuns that kindness isn't a superpower like flying, super strength, or speed.  But her sister's doubts don't stop Superbuns from helping those around her as she and her sister take a carrot cobbler to Grammy.  The appearance of a fox sends Blossom into a panic.  Can Superbuns step in and save the day with her superpower?  I enjoyed reading this story about a superpower that often gets overlooked.  Superbuns spends her time helping in relatively small ways, with an umbrella, taking out the garbage, watering plants, etc.  But she leaves those around her with a smile on their face.  I also appreciated the fact that she doesn't let her sister's doubt stop her from doing her good deeds, including acts of kindness to her sister.  I especially enjoyed the adorable illustrations that highlight Superbuns good deeds in the background as her sister prattles on.  A fun way to share the idea that kindness is the truest of superpowers.


My school will amaze you. My school will astound.
By far the most fabulous school to be found!
Perfectly planned and impeccably clean.
On a scale, 1 to 10, it's more like 15!
And learning is fun in a place that's fun, too.

If Jack built a school, there would be hover desks and pop-up textbooks, skydiving wind tunnels and a trampoline basketball court in the gym, a robo-chef to serve lunch in the cafeteria, field trips to Mars, and a whole lot more. The inventive boy who described his ideal car and house in previous books is dreaming even bigger this time.


I discovered the series this book is a part of this summer and I fell in love with it.  Not only do I adore Van Dusen's bright, entertaining illustrations, but his rhyming is first rate.  In this book, Jack tells his teacher all about the school he would build if he was in charge.  He demonstrates a first rate imagination as he details the zoo, glass tubes and pods for transportation, classroom towers, and stylus's that write in the air.  He can't explain how everything works but he with the faith of a child he's positive his school would be great.  The rhyming makes for a great read aloud and the bright illustrations and clever ideas make this a delightful book to share.  The book could even be used to encourage students to design their own schools.

Monday, August 19, 2019

MMGM : The Unbelievable Oliver and the Four Jokers by Pseudonmous Bosch


Nine-year-old Oliver dreams of being a professional magician, but he gets stage fright whenever he performs and ends up forgetting his tricks. Much to his dismay, his friends Teenie and Bea have gotten him invited to a classmate's birthday party as the paid entertainment! Desperately hoping for help with his act, he visits The Great Zoocheeni's Magic Emporium, but Zoocheeni sneeringly refuses to teach him a single trick or sell him any props other than a moth-eaten top hat.

Oliver is in for a lucky surprise, though. Inside that top hat hides a wisecracking rabbit named Benny, who agrees to help Oliver impress at the party. Little does Oliver know that he'll also end up accused of theft and needing to solve the mystery of the missing robo-cat to clear his own name before he and Benny can perform their grand finale.

Each book in the series is named for a classic magic trick (e.g. The Four Burglars, The Rope Trick, Sawed in Half, etc.) and contains a simple mystery story inspired by the trick. Every time Oliver performs, something goes wrong, but with the help of his rabbit, Benny, and the twin girls, Teenie and Bea, Oliver always sets things right in the end. A magic trick may go astray but a mystery never goes unsolved.


Oliver longs to be a magician but his severe stage fright makes it seem like an impossibility.  When his friends Teenie and Bea get him "hired" as the entertainment at a classmate's birthday party he's terrified.  He tries to get help with his act from the local magic store but the magician refuses to help him.  After buying an old top hat, Oliver wonders how he will ever survive.  Especially since the boy he's performing for is a rich, spoiled-jerk.  Things don't exactly go as planned at the party especially when Oliver is accused of stealing one of the presents.  Oliver sets out with Teenie and Bea, and a sarcastic bunny named Benny (from the top hat) to find the real guilty party and it's rather amusing to see how each of them follows a different set of clues.  Can Oliver solve the mystery and clear his name?  Can he actually complete a trick or will he completely humiliate himself?  While I didn't enjoy the book as much as I was hoping.  I did enjoy the magic parts and it was fun to see how Oliver actually used a magic trick to reveal the answer to the mystery.  The talking bunny wasn't my favorite part of the book, but some readers are bound to find him amusing.  The plentiful illustrations, including comic book-like segments break up the text in a fun way adding to the enjoyment.   And the author explains how to perform the trick (The Four Jokers) at the end of the book.  The diverse family (Teenie and Bea have two dads), adds a nice touch without being pushy or even that big a part of the story.A fun read for young readers who enjoy magic with some fantasy (the talking bunny) thrown in.  It definitely has Bosch's touch of the unusual about it.

Monday, August 12, 2019

MMGM: Skyjacked by Paul Griffin


Six friends who attend Manhattan's elite Hartwell Academy are returning from an end-of-summer camping trip together on a private plane. Everything seems normal... except one of the regular pilots is sick, so there's a replacement; Cassie is starting to get violently ill for no clear reason; and they realize the plane is flying west, not east. Soon it's clear: the plane has been hijacked. But by who, and why? Where are they going? What made Cassie so sick? And even if they somehow make it into the cockpit and overpower the hijacker, could they land the plane? Emotions are running high, and choosing who to trust is a matter of life or death. 
Skyjacked takes the reader on a thriller of a ride.  Five teenage friends who attend an elite private academy are finishing up a camping trip.  After hopping on Cassie's father's private jet, they are ready to head back to New York. But things are quite right.  Emily is dating Tim, but seems interested in Jay, who isn't quite comfortable at the school since he's on scholarship and not from a wealthy family like the others.  Cassie and Brandon are best friends, but Cassie's recklessness threatens their lives.  And Tim, despite his large size, is a confused scared kid.
Things take a strange turn when Jay notices the plane is heading west instead of east and the cockpit door is locked, which it isn't normally.  When Cassie gets violently ill, fear enters the cabin and the teenagers and Cassie's bodyguard have to decide what to do.  Meanwhile, Michelle is working as an intern at NATIC (National Air Traffic Investigation Center) in hopes of getting a recommendation to the Air Force Academy.  But after failing a simulation, she's not as confident as she once was.
When it becomes clear that the flight is deliberately off-course, Michelle struggles to find a way to help amidst all the chaos.  And on the flight, the friends frantically try to save Cassie's life while trying to decide what, if anything, they should attempt to do to get the plane back on course.  The hijacker seems obvious at first, after all the co-pilot is a fill-in and they know nothing about her.  But the bodyguard is new as well and Cassie doesn't like her.  As the situation becomes more dire so do the stakes and difficult decisions must be made.
I stayed up late finishing this one because I wanted to know what happened.  To me that's a sign the author did a good job with the plotting.  The story is front and center here, although enough details are given about various characters for them to seem real and unique.  Since the focus is on the tragedy the teens find themselves in there isn't any drugs or sex.  I was also impressed that their isn't any swearing either making this appropriate for middle grade readers.  Middle grade readers who enjoy thrillers that is.  Naturally, the situation doesn't resolve itself in an entirely happy way, there are deaths involved as one might expect in such a situation.  Probably not the best read though for middle graders who don't handle tragedy or tension very well.  But an enjoyable read for those who aren't as troubled by those things.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: Truth or Lie Dinosaurs!/Truth or Lie Sharks! by Erica S. Perl


Tyrannosaurus rex's closest living relative is the alligator, right? That's a LIE! The TRUTH is, the massive carnivore was actually more closely related to chickens!! Though this engaging early reader is 100% fun, 25% of it is FALSE! In a unique question-and-answer format, proficient readers are quizzed about dinosaurs to see if they can separate facts from "lies." The book's mascot--the Truth Sleuth--guides readers through this funny and fact-packed Step 3 Reader, which features photos and illustrations of dinosaurs and fossils, with funny, kid-appealing art by Michael Slack.


This new series for young beginning readers is not only informative but gives said readers a chance to play a game and test his/her knowledge of the chosen topic.  This first book in the series is about dinosaurs.  The book is narrated by a stamp called the Truth Sleuth who takes the reader through the book.  The reader is presented with a series of four facts but only three of the facts are true.  The reader is then encouraged to decide which one they think is false.  The next double page spread reveals which one is a lie and why.  The combination of illustrations and photos (as available) add to the fun.  Young readers who are fascinated with dinosaurs will enjoy testing their knowledge and learning new facts at the same time.  The book is also a great way for teachers or parents to teach children not to trust everything they see and hear or might be exposed to through friends or the media.  For me as a librarian, the book will be a great lead-in to lessons on find accurate, reliable information.  A great resource and fun read for young and old alike.


Baby sharks are toothless at first, right? That's a LIE! The TRUTH is, sharks are born with a mouthful of teeth to protect themselves and hunt right away. Though this engaging early reader is 100% fun, 25% of it is FALSE! In a unique question-and-answer format, proficient readers are quizzed about their favorite ocean predators to see if they can separate facts from "lies." The book's mascot--the Truth Sleuth--guides readers through this funny and fact-packed Step 3 Reader, filled with photos of sharks in action, as well as kid-appealing art and humor.


Sharks are a favorite topic for many young readers.  Combining a popular topic with this fun new interactive format makes for a winning read.  The book provides lots of interesting facts about sharks but only 75% are true.  The book is narrated by a LIE stamp named the Truth Sleuth, who presents the reader with four facts about sharks.  But only three of the four are true.  Readers are then encouraged to decide which one they think is false.  The following double page spread reveals which one is a lie and why it is a lie.  Even as an adult I enjoyed testing my knowledge of sharks.  I even learned some things I didn't know before.  In addition to being enjoyable for young readers who are passionate about sharks, the book would be great for teachers or parents who want to help their students/children understand that not everything they see or hear is true.  As a librarian, I plan to use the book to introduce the importance of verifying information and how to find accurate, reliable information.  I look forward to more books in this series.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

BACK-to-School Titles: School of Fish/My First Day of School/PJ Masks Save the School


From acclaimed, prolific author Jane Yolen comes a Level 1 Ready-to-Read story bursting with all the excitement and a little bit of the nervousness that color a fish’s first day at a new school.

I look around.
What do I see?
Another fish who’s just like me!
A little scared.
A little new.
All alone and feeling blue.

Starting at a new school is never easy, but it can also be really exciting. Beginning readers can follow along as one intrepid little fish goes through the many emotions associated with a new school experience!


School of Fish follows the adventures of a young fish attending school for the first time.  At first he's full of confidence, until the unexpected happens when he sees the head of a shark.  After making it on the bus, he finds himself alone and nervous.  He takes a moment to count to ten and calm down, but the day isn't over.  Fortunately, he remembers to calm himself down as he deals with homesickness, annoying classmates, and being alone. Things take a turn for the better when he decides to reach out to another who is also alone.  The simple text reads smoothly, which is always a great accomplishment when it comes to rhyming text.  But I would expect no less from Jane Yolen.  The illustrations are bright and colorful and very appealing.  This book provides a fun way to help children learn about facing the unexpected and dealing with what can often be overwhelming emotions.  A story that works on many levels, both in terms of fun and in terms of leading to some important conversations between parent/guardian and child or teacher and child.  I'll probably use this one with my kindergarten classes.


It’s the first day of school in this early reader by Biscuit creator Alyssa Satin Capucilli. What will it be like? At school, students will meet the teacher, make new friends, sing songs, play, learn, and so much more! Young readers will love seeing kids their age go to school in this adorable introduction to the classroom.

Includes a special section in the back with more information about what happens at school!


My First Day of School tells of the activities that children might encounter at school.  Reading this reminded me a lot of my own kindergarten experience.  However, in my experience, kindergarten isn't like this anymore -- no snacks, no dress up time, no sand piles, block building, or painting.  There just isn't time within the to-the-minute schedule.  However, I am aware that this could be referring to pre-school or kindergarten classes that have maintained some of the old traditions.  I did enjoy the book.  The photographs are adorable and the text is clear and to the point.  The author has also taken the time to add additional information about various activities that children may experience.  Just be aware that if you read this with your child, the activities they will experience aren't likely to follow the ones documented here exactly.  But the book is cute and could give a nervous child an idea of what to expect.

The school supplies have gone missing, and because of Romeo’s wacky invention, Catboy and Gekko now have Owlette’s powers! But Owlette doesn’t want to share her powers. Will the PJ Masks be able to work together and save the school?


PJ MASKS Save the School! can't be called great literature.  But this sort of licensed book isn't really intended to be.  This book is intended to appeal to children who are fans of the show who want to read about the characters.  The book itself is based on a TV episode, although, I'm sure the story has been adapted to work in a book format.  The story is cute enough with the three children becoming their superhero selves to combat a thief.  But it turns out to have been a trap, and the three must work together to defeat their foe.  While not great literature, if you have a child who enjoys the show, they will probably enjoy the book.

Monday, August 5, 2019

MMGM: Order of the Majestic by Matt Myklusch


Twelve-year-old daydreamer Joey Kopecky’s life has been turned upside down. After acing a series of tests, he’s declared a genius and awarded a full scholarship at a special (year-round!) school. He’s understandably devastated, until he takes one last test, and the room around him disappears, replaced by the interior of an old theater.

There, Joey meets the washed-up magician, Redondo the Magnificent, and makes a shocking discovery…magic is real, but sadly, there isn’t much left in the world. It may be too late to save what little remains, but for the first time in his life Joey wants to try—really try—to do something big. Soon he’s swept up into a centuries-old conflict between two rival societies of magicians—the Order of the Majestic, who fights to keep magic alive and free for all, and the dark magicians of the Invisible Hand, who hoard magic for their own evil ends.

The endless battle for control of magic itself has reached a tipping point. For Redondo and the Order to survive, Joey must inherit the lost legacy of Harry Houdini. Will he prove himself worthy, or will the Invisible Hand strike him down? The answer will depend on Joey’s ability to believe, not just in magic, but in himself.


Order of the Majestic takes the reader into the heart of a world where magic is mostly controlled by an evil organization called the Invisible Hand.  A young boy named Joey, has no idea that magic is real, for him, he's stressed about his parents wanting him to take some special tests and attend a special private school for geniuses.  Just because he aced a few standardized test.  But he doesn't see himself as anything special, even after being asked to take a strange test that lands him inside the phantom remains of an old theater.  Here he meets Redondo the Magnificent, a talented magician that disappeared twenty years ago.  Redondo used to be the head of an organizer called the Order of the Majestic (named after the Majestic Theater in which Redondo now hides).  This organization used to oppose the Invisible Hand and worked to spread magic among the masses.

Joey is fascinated by magic's existence, but as he quickly becomes involved in the conflict between the Invisible Hand and Redondo, he's not at all sure that he wants to be involved at all.  But something keeps drawing him back.  A competition between him and two other young people for the powerful wand that Redondo possesses is something that leaves Joey struggling.  He doesn't have the skills to compete against Leonora and Shazad, but he can't bring himself to quit.  But when his doubts about himself and about Redondo leave his new-found friends and Redondo in danger of destruction, Joey has to decide if he can find the courage and belief to step up.

The idea of magicians having real magic and Harry Houdini having a powerful wand is a great one for a middle grade fantasy novel.  Joey also makes for a great main character as he struggles with self-belief and his reluctance to get involved in the whole evil vs. good use of magic war.  It's a valid fear that holds him back after all, he doesn't know Redondo very well, and Redondo is rather a jerk through most of the book.  He also knows little about magic and how it works and he's immediately thrown into some difficult situations.  And of course, his self-esteem struggles make it hard to believe in anything else and magic requires belief.

I enjoyed the story for the most part, the plot points are rather creative and I loved the phantom theater as a setting.  And as I said above, Joey is a sympathetic character.  The villains are very villainous and the school Joey might attend is intriguing.  What I had a hard time with is Redondo himself.  He took himself out of the fight twenty years earlier after an unfortunate series of events and then has the gall to blame Joey when he's tricked and manipulated by the enemy.  I really wanted to shake him at that point.  Luckily, he redeems himself later on.  Overall, Order of the Majestic works as a fantasy involving themes of belief, friendship, and power.

Friday, August 2, 2019

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: A Small Zombie Problem/The Haunting of Henry Davis


In his fiction debut--and the start of a new series--celebrated illustrator K.G. Campbell brings a touch of Tim Burton to this singularly strange and wonderful story about a lonely boy whose life is about to get a whole lot more complicated when a zombie follows him home.

August DuPont has spent his whole life inside a dilapidated house with his aunt Hydrangea. His lonely existence ends abruptly with the arrival of an invitation to meet an aunt--and cousins--he didn't even know existed. When Aunt Orchid suggests that August attend school with his cousins, it's a dream come true. But August has scarcely begun to celebrate his reversal of fortune when he is confronted by a small problem on his way home. So begins an adventure filled with a wild child, a zombie, a fabled white alligator, and an unimaginable family secret.


I have rather mixed feelings about this book.  I did immediately feel empathy for August, who as the story opens has been stuck inside his aunt's house his entire life because of a rather weird phenomenon.  And yet, the characters were rather too odd for my taste, and the zombie details were rather gross (an eyeball kept getting thrown around).  The story is certainly a unique one, with August eventually befriending the zombie girl following him around.  It's clear though from the moment that August meets his other aunt, Aunt Orchid, that she's trying to use him to get something she wants from his home and I felt bad for him that he didn't know enough about people to see it.  And his cousins aren't exactly likable.  And the white alligator is just puzzling as it doesn't really play much of a role as of yet.  I'm assuming that it probably will late in the series.  I think what it comes down to is that this isn't really my kind of story.  The description above mentions Tim Burton and I am not a fan of his work either, so maybe that explains why I didn't like this as much as I'd hoped when I picked it up.  But if you know a reader who enjoys Tim Burton kinds of strange stories, they may very well like this one.


Ghosts only haunt when they've left something behind...
When Henry Davis moves into the neighborhood, Barbara Anne and her classmates at Washington Carver Elementary don't know what to make of him. He's pale, small, odd. For curious Barbara Anne, Henry's also a riddle--a boy who sits alone at recess sketching in a mysterious notebook, a boy, she soon learns, who's being haunted by a ghost named Edgar.

With the help of some new friends, this unlikely duo is off on an adventure to discover who Edgar was while alive and why he's haunting Henry now. Together, they might just help Edgar find what he needs to finally be at peace.


The Haunting of Henry Davis ended up going in a direction that I didn't expect.  I guess I was expecting it to be scarier than it ended up being.  While the book didn't end up being too scary, I did find it an interesting read.  Barbara Anne as a narrator was amusing with her bossy tendencies.  I enjoyed the characters, Barbara Anne, Henry, Zack, and Renee.  It was also interesting to have a secondary character be the one being haunted instead of the main character (Barbara Anne in this case).  But it made Barbara Anne's bossiness stand out all the more as she pushed Henry to follow her lead in trying to figure out why Edgar is haunting him.  Unfortunately for all four kids, Barbara Anne's ideas were often rather disastrous.  But the inclusion of the historical elements created a bit of a mystery that I found interesting.  I'm not sure how interesting young readers will find it, but I enjoyed it.  The pranks that Edgar kept pulling on poor Henry as well as the sickness that Henry struggled with led me to think that things were heading in a different direction than they ended up going.  That was a nice surprise because I figured out a lot of things fairly early in the story (although young readers without a strong history background probably won't).  However, that surprising turn at the end makes the ending less exciting than it could have been.  The story, rather than being scary, turns out to focus on the ups and downs of friendship, which makes for an interesting read but not a scary one.  I wasn't real comfortable with all the things that Barbara Anne did, such as using a ouija board, but the author doesn't make a big deal out of it.  A fun read for students who like ghost stories that aren't so scary.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

SERIES THURSDAY: Scout trilogy by Jennifer Li Shotz


Scout, once a stray puppy with a troubled past, has grown into one of the best search-and-rescue dogs in Mississippi. And now he’s ready for bigger and better things: Scout is joining the National Guard. But Scout’s new life as a K9 recruit is far from easy as he adjusts to his challenging training and a brand-new family.

Twelve-year-old Matt is determined to help Scout feel at home in Nevada, but when a terrifying flash flood hits town, the pair must save the day and prove their worth.

As Scout and Matt team up to survive treacherous rising water, lead victims to safety, and attempt to rescue Matt’s sister, they quickly learn that bravery is just the first ingredient in the making of a hero. Does the duo have what it takes to protect their town from the fallout of this devastating disaster?


It’s official: Scout is now a K9 in the National Guard. But being a certified hero means Scout has his job cut out for him. He needs to work even harder to protect his country and his human best friend, Matt.

When Matt’s classmates get trapped in a raging wildfire, Matt knows that only Scout can track them down and bring them back safely. But when Matt’s dad, a First Sergeant home on leave, gets wind of their plan, he insists on joining the rescue mission.

Can the heroic team save Matt’s friends from the dangerous fires before time runs out?


Scout, a National Guard dog, was born to be a hero. When Scout and his 12-year-old owner, Matt, land in Puerto Rico after a devastating hurricane, they want to help. The pair befriend Luisa, who knows all about the Sato dogs—abandoned pups who need food and shelter.

Scout and Matt decide to foster an injured dog named Pepita. But Pepita is clearly searching for something and runs off into the rainforest. Now it’s up to Scout, Matt and Luisa to find the missing dog and bring her back safely.

Surviving the dangers of the wilderness will be far from easy, but Scout and Matt make an excellent team.


For the sake of expediency, I'm going to write a review of the series as a whole.  I thoroughly enjoyed all three books, and I would not be disappointed if their happened to be more of them.  Matt and Scout are a great pair and I liked them immediately.  That's not to say that both the boy and the dog don't make mistakes because they do, which is appropriate as it makes the books more realistic.  I especially loved how readable each book was and how compelling the stories were in terms of adventure and excitement. Middle grade readers who enjoy adventurous stories revolving around dogs are bound to enjoy this series.  That's undoubtedly why Shotz is a bestselling author.

In the first book, Matt takes risks that he shouldn't and he borrows Scout from the dog training center on the military base without permission.  But that turns out to be a good thing when Matt sets out to find his sister after the dam breaks and floods the town.  Scout's search-and rescue training isn't firmly established in book one, but it's strong enough to allow Matt to use him to search for his sister while his mother is in charge of the National Guard's efforts to help.

Book two revolves around Matt's reuniting with his father who has recently returned from a tour of duty.  As Matt enjoys having his father back, he worries about his friends who have taken off on a dangerous hike and rock climbing trip without telling any adults about it.  He wrestles with whether he should say anything when a wildfire begins and threatens his friends lives.  Things get hairy when he and his father set off with Scout to find his friends and find themselves trapped by the fire. 

Book three takes a different turn when Matt goes with his colonel mother to help in Puerto Rico after a hurricane.  He becomes involved with the daughter of the Puerto Rican base commander and her efforts to help the satos (stray dogs) who've been injured in the storm.  A particular dog has won the girl's affections but he continuing efforts to escape make it clear that she had a home before the storm that she's trying to get back to.  Matt, Scout, and Luisa follow the little dog in order to help her find her way home, but find themselves in the middle of a rain forest during a downpour facing hunger and wild dogs.

Overall, I'd rate this series very highly.  The books are well-written and plotted with likable characters and compelling stories.  Now it would be easy for a series like this to be rather focused on the plot with the characters getting the short-end of the stick.  But that doesn't happen hear.  Themes related to friendship, family, sacrifice, making good decisions, and kindness all radiate from these stories.  This series is definitely going on my favorites shelf.
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