Tag Archives: middle grade fiction

The Magician’s Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia), 1955

I published this post on my self-hosted blog last spring. Since the first five Narnia books are on this blog, I wanted to put this one here, too.

the magician's nephewI’m nearly done working my way through the Chronicles of Narnia with my son. This is the sixth and second-to-last book in the series. Oddly enough, it tells of Narnia’s beginnings. Yes, for this one we jump back about two generations before the Pevensie children were born. At this time there lived in London a boy named Digory and his neighbor, Polly. Digory’s mother is deathly ill, so they came to live with his aunt and uncle. Uncle Andrew, unfortunately, was a horrible man—arrogant, selfish, and cruel. He had absolutely no business dabbling in magic.

Digory and Polly soon find themselves in the dying world of Charn, where Digory disturbs a great evil and awakens a sorceress. Later, when the children find themselves in the brand new world of Narnia, during that splendid first morning when Aslan sings the land and creatures awake, they bring the witch with them. It is a Genesis story. An Eden, complete perfection sullied by mankind’s error. But Aslan promises to bear the worst of the cost on himself.

As always, Aslan’s presence is rich and beautiful. He works a protection over all of Narnia that will last for many hundreds of years—accomplished through the hands of man. He is the lordly, noble hero of the series, but not all admire him. He terrifies Uncle Diggory.

“He has made himself unable to hear my voice,” Aslan tells the children. “If I spoke to him, he would hear only growlings and roarings. Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves from all that might do you good!”

Yet for others, for the London cabbie and his wife (and their horse), who entered Narnia accidentally, and for the two children, their lives are forever changed by their encounter with the Lion and his beautiful land. Though Digory and Polly must return to our world (they do appear in other books, but I won’t spoil that surprise), the cabbie and his wife become the first great King and Queen and the ancestors of all humans in Narnia. We’re even treated to the story behind the lamp-post in Lantern Waste.

All in all, The Magician’s Nephew is another great adventure and a necessary precursor to books one through five. Here we find the beginning of the threads that will tie up the entire series in a neat package in the next and final book.

A Measure of Disorder (Mother Earth Series, book 1), by Alan Tucker

a measure of disorderWho knew a simple science field trip could turn into such a whale of an adventure? Jenni Kershaw and her classmates can’t seem to find the bus for the return trip to school. Then they notice the landscape has changed, the vegetation is unfamiliar, not to mention the peculiar talking wildlife. They’ve been brought to an entirely new world.

Alan Tucker has a wild imagination, down to the tiniest, seemingly insignificant detail. But all those details become important as Jenni and her friends change form and learn to survive on Mother. This one is more than just an adventure, though. It touches on some deeper themes: balance, the shape of one’s soul (reflected in outward appearance), good vs. evil, and the problem of living within societal expectations that just don’t fit. (Prediction: I think if society doesn’t change in the next two books, there’s going to be some serious breaking out of those expectations!)

Here’s one of my favorite quotes: “Things that happen out of our control happen for a reason. Even if we can’t always understand what that reason might be.” Sounds almost biblical, doesn’t it? Though in this fictional world, Mother itself is the ultimate Authority.

A Measure of Disorder is unique and surprised me in many ways. My only complaint is that while there was some terrific action and adventure, it didn’t bring me to any highs or lows. The emotional tone of the book felt a little too steady for my taste. But I enjoyed the read, and I was absolutely amazed at the far-reaching effects of the changes taking place in the kids on Mother. Kudos, Mr. Tucker, on a well thought out tale!

Grab it FREE on Amazon!

___________________________________________________

Alan TuckerAlan Tucker, is a dad, a graphic designer, and a soccer coach. Mostly in that order. He’s also an Emblazon author. “I wanted to write books that I’d enjoy reading. Books that I hoped my kids would enjoy too!”

Visit his website for more information about his books. View maps, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Heirloom (Seed Savers, book 3), by S. Smith, 2013

heirloom front finalI was thrilled to be invited as a participant in the Heirloom book tour. In fact, I was thrilled to find the series for my tween son, who loves nothing better than to help me in our large garden on a warm summer morning. It’s sufficiently scary for tweens without being overwhelmingly so. It’s definitely middle grade, but this adult has also enjoyed it immensely. (Read my sons reviews of Seed Savers: Treasure and Seed Savers: Lily.)

The setting of Seed Savers is futuristic, the government more oppressive than it is today. Large corporations have taken over the food supply and the government agencies that regulate it. Growing food has become illegal for private citizens. Yet a thriving Seed Savers movement, those individuals dedicated to preserving the old way of life, won’t let the art of food production and preservation die.

treasure Heirloom is actually the third book in the series. In the first (Treasure), three children—siblings Clare and Dante and their friend Lily—get caught up with this grass roots movement. When GRIM, the government’s food policy enforcement agency, catches up to them, Clare and Dante must flee. The second book (Lily) tells what happens to Lily when she is left behind. Of course, she is drawn ever deeper into the movement and learns she has some startling connections to its beginnings. Lily was my favorite so far.

lily

Heirloom continues a split story. Clare and Dante are living with a host family in Canada and taking advantage of that country’s freedom to learn all they can about gardening. While this story line is a bit slow, it does give some information about the history that led up to the present food situation in America. The politics are probably beyond most tweens—they’ll most likely gloss over it—but it makes logical sense to an adult and fills in some holes. The real excitement takes place in Lily’s half of the story. GRIM gets very close once again, and Lily’s not sure who to trust. She finally takes off on a personal mission of her own, much as Dante and Clare did, but in an entirely different direction and with an entirely different motive.

blog tourI love the premise of this series, and as a gardener I identify strongly with it. While I absolutely loved the smoothness of the story and the beautiful prose found in LilyHeirloom had some rougher moments, particularly as Lily’s story is told in the first person. It’s more stylized, with more fragmented sentences and many, many phrases set off with commas, which portrays the tumultuous thoughts playing in her brain. I personally prefer the smoother beauty of a third person narrative. However, Heirloom is not lacking in truly artistic moments.

I was startled by several minor profanities this time around. Usually I just mention them in passing so parents know they’re there. But as they’ve been happily absent in the first two books, I thought I’d express my regret to find them in book three. I understand why they’re used. The character they are associated with is a rough, backwoodsy sort, and they fit him well. I could forgive them in an adult book, but this is very much middle grade fiction. In particular, it’s a series I have urged my kids to read because of the high quality of the writing and the absolute absence of negative factors. Finding profanity now feels a bit like a betrayal. I think the readership would be better served if this particular individual spoke with more creative, colorful expletives (sam hill, goldurned, dagnab, thunderation, blasted, etc.) rather than vulgarity. Just one mother’s opinion. (Ms. Smith answered this by mentioning there is also one d*** in Lily (that I totally missed), beside one in Heirloom along with three h***s. Mild, but there. A tough decision for a writer.)

In conclusion, however, I thought this third installment was a strong addition to a very enjoyable series.

Grab the books: (includes Kindle and paperback links)
Treasure
Lily
Heirloom

_______________________________________________________________

smith 5x7 authorS. Smith grew up on a farm with a tremendously large garden. She maintains that if you can’t taste the soil on a carrot, it’s not fresh enough. Although she now lives with her husband and three cats in the city, she still manages to grow fruits and vegetables in their backyard garden.

A licensed ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, Ms. Smith has enjoyed teaching students from around the world.

Ms. Smith is a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and an OSU Master Gardener. She gardens and writes at her home in the beautiful and green Pacific Northwest.

Want to catch more stops in tour? Find the schedule here.

Magian High, by Lia London, 2012

I have about a dozen posts from my self-hosted site (now closed down) that I’d like to save on this one. I’ll be adding them on Fridays. If you were subscribed to that site, you can just ignore them.

magian highAll three high schools in Kincaid Riley’s town are being desegregated, which means the Mages will be mixing in with non-magical students. Intermingling seemed like a good idea to Kincaid, who worked to see it happen, until violent protests break out. But who is behind the protests? And who stands to gain from them? As Riley uncovers the mystery with the help of new friends, he decides mixing with others who are different than himself really is an experience worth preserving.

In Magian High, author Lia London takes a fresh approach to magic and makes it relevant to teens. It’s a fun read, smoothly written and clean. The story contains a bit of romance, some humor, and a lot of personality, not to mention great insights into the power of love, cooperation, and friendship. Very enjoyable and well done.

Squeaky Award

Though it features teens, I’d recommend this one for readers as young as 10. There’s simply nothing inappropriate in it, and the magic will appeal to tweens. Grab a copy on Amazon.

_________________________________________________________

lia londonLia London started writing sketches for school assemblies in the fourth grade and continued to write on-demand scripts for the next 30 years. She grew up to be a high school English teacher. She has loved working with and writing for teens ever since. Visit her website (link follows) and check out her unique collaborative approach to writing. Find her on the Emblazon blog. Or you can visit her Clean Indie Reads website.
Website | Facebook | Twitter

The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis, book review

the silver chairThe Silver Chair is my least favorite book in the Narnia series, but that by no means makes it junk. Eustace returns and brings with him a new character, a schoolmate by the name of Jill Pole. Immediately Aslan sets them a task: locate and rescue Prince Rilian, son of King Caspian, who was kidnapped ten years before. And so Jill and Eustace, with the help of a solemn but valiant Marsh-wiggle named Puddleglum, set off for the northern wastes to rescue the prince.

It is this gloomy setting that I don’t care for in the book. The marsh is wide and lonely, the mountains cold, hard, and bleak. And then the trio goes underground to a world of darkness, drabness, and evil. I much prefer the beauty of southern Narnia. But I do think it’s cool that Lewis developed such a varied world. And the adventures are just as exciting as any other the children embark on.

What makes the book especially meaningful, like all the others, is the wealth of double meanings. Like when Jill first arrives in Aslan’s Country and badly wants a drink, but she’s too frightened to pass the great, terrifying Lion lying by the stream:

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the Lion…

“…I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

Anyone who has read the Gospel of John will find great significance in these words. And my favorite part is when the children rescue the Prince only to be enchanted by the Witch, who is trying to convince them there is no Overworld, no sun, and no Lion. But the noble Marsh-wiggle combats her with these words:

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world that licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.

Compare that to Saint Paul’s writings about foolishness. Pretty powerful stuff, eh? And it makes a great triumphant moment for our heroes. Along with adventure, great characters, and a world I’ve come to love, it is such depth that places these books high on my list of favorites. The fact that I happen to share Lewis’ faith doesn’t hurt either. But the whole Narnian series is so magically written that it is regarded almost universally as excellent literature. Not many books remain so hugely popular even after sixty years. There’s good reason for that. I highly recommend The Silver Chair. Ages 10+

Sir Nathan and the Quest for Queen Gobbledeegook, by Mark Simon Smith, 2012, Book Review

MMGM is a weekly meme hosted by middle grade author, Shannon Messenger

sir-nathan

My sons both enjoyed this book. The humor is droll, the plot straightforward, and the details random enough to engage young readers. Consider Jubb Jubb Trees that fall into piles of lumber with a precise kick, Hootentoot leaves that scream with fright when they fall, blue squirrels, a sun that rises and sets in the east because of an old grudge with the west, landscapes of polka dots and bright primary colors, lots of magic, and a hero who isn’t all that bright but who is valiant, likable, and bursting with personality. That’s what you get with Sir Nathan.

I, however, don’t rank this one as highly as my sons. I found the detail (which my kids loved) tedious and the plot slow and predictable. There was also a good deal of redundancy and wordiness, and the whole thing needed a few sessions with an editor. Twenty percent of the book could be wiped out with the first markup. But it’s clean, the author has a sense of humor, and it is fun for the audience for whom it is intended.

Consider the following quote:

Surprisingly, Sir Nathan was usually able to finish all of his quests just by shouting knightly stuff. Tupolev (the horse) was amazed at how many bad guys would just give up at the first sign of someone with a huge sword screaming about smiting and smashing and stabbing. There was even one time when Sir Nathan defeated an entire army of goblin pirates with just one single growl.

Of course, Tupolev knew the growl was really just a loud burp from a late breakfast. But, still, it had worked.

What kid won’t laugh at that and read on for more? The tagline (“A Somewhat Silly Story”) is pretty accurate. And I have to admit, Sir Nathan and his trusty steed do have consistent, engaging personalities. It just isn’t the same quality as something picked up from the bookstore. So I won’t give Sir Nathan a high recommendation, but I have no objections if it will get kids like my reluctant readers reading. I have little enough invested in them. Sir Nathan is just .99 on Amazon, and so is the sequel. For ages 7-11.

The Big Bank Burglary (St. Viper’s School for Super Villains), by Kim Donovan, 2013, Book Review

MMGM is a weekly meme hosted by middle grade author, Shannon Messenger. (Finally! A meme that fits perfectly with my content!)

the big bank burglary

This is the second in Kim Donovan’s St. Viper’s series, and it’s just as fun as the first one. The school hidden within the volcano is back, and the lessons to train young villains in World Domination continue. This time, the Syndicate of Supreme Evil is bent on control of all the world’s banks. The Big Bank Robbery is to be a school project for the baddest of the scholars, and Demon wants in. The problem is, ever since Copycat transferred to St. Viper’s, Demon can’t seem to stop messing up. Demon’s popularity has tanked, and even some of his friends abandon him for the new guy.

The Big Bank Burglary is chucked full of more kid-pleasing detail. A giant food fight involving snake flesh pizza and cowpat curry; super villains with names like Lady Lava, Flying Phantom, Monsieur Magnifique, and Doctor Dynamite; cool technie gadgets like the EVIL (Electronic Villain’s Intelligence Log), and enough high-flying action to satisfy every kid’s craving.

But St. Viper’s isn’t pure evil. Even though we’re rooting for the bad guys (all in good fun, of course), at the end of the adventure, we celebrate some noble traits. Like the loyalty Demon’s friends display. And when Demon’s arch nemesis is in his hands, he lets him go to fight another day. In fact, “he was looking forward to lots of battles…” He found purpose, silly as it might be. And finally, in a hilarious twist, we find that even Dr. Super Villain finds he needs love and acceptance.

Funny, action-packed, well-edited, and containing absolutely no objectionable content, this one rates highly for the younger middle graders. Recommended for ages 7-9.

The Big Bank Burglary is also available on Smashwords.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia, book one), by C.S. Lewis, 1950

lion witch wardrobe

This spring I’m making my, golly, eighth or ninth journey through Narnia, but this time I’m taking along my son. We’re going to end the homeschool year by reading the entire series. He’s watched the movie before, but he’d never experienced the written version. It was a hit. We finished The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in five big gulps because neither of us wanted to stick to the allotted time frame. I have to say, there is a depth and a beauty in the prose that the movie just can’t capture.

This classic is so well known I hardly feel a plot summary is necessary, but I’ll write one anyway. The four Pevensie siblings, Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter, have been sent to the countryside to avoid the bombing of London during WWII and land in a huge old home owned by a peculiar old professor. There they find within a wardrobe a magical world that is being held captive by an evil witch. The whole land awaits the coming of two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve, as spoken in prophecy, and the great lion, Aslan, who will free them from the witch’s rule. But Edward betrays the others, and the Deep Magic written into Narnia at the beginning of time requires a traitor’s blood. Aslan must make the ultimate sacrifice to save him and save Narnia.

As a child, I loved the fairy tale elements of this story: the talking animals, the children who rule as kings and queens, the medieval quality, the mythical creatures, the great lovable lion. But as I grew, I discovered layer upon layer of richness within its pages. Humans are set up as good rulers over animals and nature; evil choices demand a high cost; forgiveness is granted even at great personal expense; good and evil are constantly at war; and my favorite, we are given a beautiful picture of a fierce, just, loving, involved, good, and untame deity—Aslan, son of the Emperor over the Sea. It doesn’t take a genius to see all that these elements have Christian parallels. Lewis’ story really isn’t all that original after all; he tells the same one set forth in the Bible. He was, after all, one of the greatest theologians of modern times. I’m not typically a fan of allegory, but this story is so strong, so beautiful, so engaging that I love it anyway. In this case, perhaps I even love it more because of it.

It seems I find something new every time I read it. This time I noticed that when the Professor argues logic to determine if Lucy is telling the truth, he uses almost word for word the arguments Lewis uses about Christ: “There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

But whether you’re a Christian or not, this tale is magical and timeless, as are all the stories of Narnia. It is one of my favorite places to visit. I’m so excited to be making the trip yet again—and taking one of my favorite people with me. Watch for my reviews.

  • Prince Caspian
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  • The Silver Chair
  • The Horse and his Boy
  • The Magician’s Nephew
  • The Last Battle

LionWitchWardrobeWallpaper1024

Horton Halfpott or the Feindish Mystery of Smugwick Manor or The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset, by Tom Angleberger, 2011, Book Review

horton halfpott

If I might add yet another subheading to the title of this most unusual book, it would be “or  Whimsical Wit and Lyrical Nonsense,” because those happen to be the two most notable assets of this particular scrap of literature. The story is sort of a whodunit with very stylized characters and a not entirely predictable plot. It’s also a rather meaningless tale with a lot of random details and very little takeaway value aside from entertainment. But it is the very precise placement of well-picked words that make this story noteworthy. It’s rather nonsensical, but it’s whimsical, it’s witty, and it’s lyrical. And that makes the entire thing rather fun.

Everything started one morning when M’Lady Luggertuck ordered her corset loosened—an Unprecedented Marvel. The whole house sensed the Loosening, from the lowliest kitchen boy to the good lady’s son, and the deeds that followed were most unusual. They included thievery, a costume ball, a kidnapping by Shipless Pirates, and the beginnings of true love (on which it’s been decided we shall not dwell). We’re also treated to one young man’s honor, the loyalty of true friends, justice granted, and one young lady’s ability to judge wisely between suitors. All told, a very satisfactory and smile-inducing read.

I’d recommend Horton Halfpott for ages eight and up.

Rules, by Cynthia Lord, 2006, Book Review

rules

This was part of my goal to read every Newbery book (this one took honors), and I finished it in one sitting. I started it the last evening of 2012 and enjoyed it enough to forego watching the ball drop. I turned the last page in the earliest hours of 2013. I knew this book had won wide acclaim, but had no idea what it was about. Turns out it shares a similar theme with Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine.

Catherine is a normal twelve-year-old girl who would like a normal life, but having a younger brother with autism means nothing is normal. David blurts out odd phrases at inopportune times. He opens cupboard doors at other people’s houses and hunts for their cellars to make sure the door is closed. He embarrasses Catherine and makes a simple thing like inviting the new neighbor girl over not so simple at all. He must be taught the social graces that the rest of us so naturally assume. So Catherine takes it upon herself to help him by creating a list of rules.

Chew with your mouth closed.

Say “thank you” when someone gives you a present (even if you don’t like it).

If the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over)!

No toys in the fish tank.

A character like David can easily alienate a reader with no basis to relate, but David actually became my favorite. He evokes a great deal of sympathy with a few cute quirks. For instance, every time he puts a toy in the fish tank, he burst into Catherine’s room and tells her, “No toys in the fish tank!” (See, he hates to be wet, and he needs her to take it out.) And every time Catherine’s guinea pigs squeal, he covers his ears and yells, “Quiet pigs!” And my favorite, my absolute favorite quirk is that whenever he can’t find the words he needs, he quotes Frog and Toad, a classic easy reader written by Arnold Lobel.

“‘“What are you laughing at, Frog?”’” David asks, worried lines cutting his forehead.

I touch the tiny frog stamp on his hand and show him mine. “‘“I’m laughing at you, Toad,” said Frog, “because you do look funny in your bathing suit.”’”

David smiles. “‘“Of course I do,” said Toad. Then he picked up his clothes and went home.”’

I feel like I got to know David, and I loved him. But the story focuses on Catherine and her changing emotion from anger and embarrassment to acceptance. And she does this with the help of Jason, a wheelchair-bound boy she befriends who can’t talk. The person under the handicap, she realizes, is a person worthy of love and respect. Rules is a moving, well-written story any way you look at it, one I’d highly recommend.