With Cinders & Sparrows, Stefan Bachmann has written a gothic novel for middle grade readers. Given the genre, his book incorporates ghosts, spirits, hauntings, misty woods, gloomy environs, enchanted chambers and staircases, talking trees and a marble bust who claims to be a prince. The novel’s plot revolves around twelve-year-old Zita Brydgeborn and her discovery that she is not an orphan after all but a member of the Brydgeborn family of witches and the heiress to Blackbird Castle. With Mrs. Cantanker as her teacher, Zita receives all sorts of training—some of it oddly questionable. Still, according to Mrs. Cantanker, “A true Blackbird is graced withRead More →

Although Cynthia Voigt’s newest book, Little Bird, has a target audience of middle-grade readers, with its anthropomorphism, it joins beast fables like Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti and Watership Down by Richard Adams, adding its own brand of commentary on human societies and behaviors. The title character, Little Bird belongs to a small flock of crows who forage, guard against danger, and live out their short lives near Old Davis Farm. However, Little Bird doesn’t have the sharp-beaked, sharp-clawed, and sharp-spoken way of other crows. She discovers additional differences between herself and other crows, when the flock loses a good luck charm called Our Luck,Read More →

Believing that humor is often more honest than being serious and that laughter contributes to resilience, author John Cusick writes books laden with laughter and bordering on the absurd. When Lola Ray and Phineas Fogg find themselves in a precarious situation where the fate of the universe is at stake, Phin must keep Lola from falling into the hands of the evil Goro Bolus and the Temporal Transit Authority who will turn her over to the Phan. The young duo must both get out of New Jersey, off the planet, and as far away from Earth’s solar system as they can. In their attempt atRead More →

Wrecked by her parents’ divorce and then her brother’s disappearance three years ago, Andrea Murphy’s life has grown awful. The empty seat at the table, her unrelenting guilt that her brother’s disappearance is somehow her fault, and his ghost in the boxes stacked in the garage all haunt her. “I’m fine” is the lie she tells to hide the cracks and holes in her heart. As a reminder of his memory, she carries a missing piece of her brother in her pocket. When the pain grows too intense to bear, she rides her bike far and fast, letting the breeze whip through her hair whileRead More →

Readers of the Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend and the Starfell series by Dominique Valente will likely enjoy The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder. This fantastical tale features the young Emily Featherhaugh, whose mother’s idiosyncrasies turn Emily into a “human firework of foot-stamping rage” (2). Emily was shamed at school and accused of living like trash after helping her mother retrieve “important art materials” from the dumpster.  Even the City Council receives complaints that Maeve Connolly is a “crazy Irish art woman who makes noise at all hours” (2). But when her mom receives a special delivery– a heavy, khaki-colored envelope from a giant carryingRead More →

Growing up, we all face conflicts about our identities.  For those who are unsure of their pasts and parentage, those conflicts escalate.  Sophie Anderson explores this truth in her fantasy tale for young readers, The Girl Who Speaks Bear. As the plot unfolds, twelve-year-old Yanka feels alienated by her unusual size and strength, unsure whether to attribute those changes to a growth spurt or to some anomaly.  In the village, she is often reminded of her differences, despite the efforts of her best friend Sasha to include her and to remind her that she is strong and brave and kind.  Because she hears the callRead More →

Eleven-year-old Buddy Pennington is hexed with bad-luck blood so that everything he touches seems to end in disaster, it does.  (I found the author’s use of these parentheticals, along with his Huckleberry Finn-like river setting, a clever way of establishing local color). When Buddy accidentally sets his mother’s bakery on fire, he decides that he is tired of being a burden to his mother and would be better off with his father, so he leaves Collardsville, a boring but respectable town, and sets out for the swamplands in search of freedom and his pop, a true wild man. After five years absent from his father andRead More →

Fans of Alice Hoffman’s Nightbird or Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events will likely enjoy Temre Beltz’s new tweens novel, The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom with its fractured fairy tale elements, its message that words matter, and its invitation to believe in magic. Set in Wanderly, a kingdom that lives “by the book,” Birdie Bloom is a Tragical, an orphan sentenced to live out her days at Foulweather’s Home for the Tragical, “a house full of bad endings” (16).  The children living here have been brainwashed by Mistress Octavia—who manages to put a damper on everything with her sinister plotting—to believe that they are nothing,Read More →

Sasquatch are real. So are mermaids and chupacabras. And the Unicorn Rescue Society has taken it upon itself to rescue any of these mythical endangered creatures that need help. Which is why Elliot and Uchenna, elementary-age members of the Unicorn Rescue Society, are on their way to the state of Washington, where the Sasquatch are in trouble. An evil corporation is after the trees in their habitat, and after them, too! Can Elliot and Uchenna stop to the Schmokes Brothers before it’s too late? This humorous and heartwarming story is full of facts about many creatures, both fictional and real; disguises; complicated vehicles; beautiful trees;Read More →