The Water Castle

 The Water Castleby Megan Frazer Blackmore

337 pages of middle grade mystery with a historical anchor that will fill you full of questions and possibilities

The Water Castle was released at the end of the school year.  It got great reviews and seemed like something I would like to read and share with kids at our school.  I got the book right away.  But, as you know I have stack sand baskets and piles of books waiting to be read – poor books – some of them wait an awfully long time.

The Water Castle lay in my “beside the reader chair” pile for the summer, but then I read that Megan Blackmore was coming to Portsmouth on October 16th.  She would be talking about her book and so The Water Castle came off the pile and I’m so glad.  Wow!  The Water Castle is different and intriguing.  Each night came home from school hoping to fly through my afternoon and evening chores so I could read.

Ephraim, his younger sister, Brynn and older brother, Price are leaving Cambridge, Massachusetts and moving to Crystal Springs, Maine.  Their dad has suffered a stroke and their physician mother believes he will get the healing care he needs there.  Crystal Springs is the site of their ancestral home – the Water Castle.  In the late 1800’s Orlando Appledore, (their great great uncle) an inventor and avid scientist, spent his young life following the legend of the Fountain of Youth.  He settled in Crystal Springs, believing he had uncovered the mystery at last.  The record is unclear – fact or fiction?  Are their healing, life-giving waters in Crystal Springs?  Did Orlando discover the Fountain of Youth?

If he did and if Ephraim can uncover the secret of that muddled past, perhaps he can heal his dad and recover his life.  The Water Castle is surrounded by mystery right from the start – it hums and releases lightening-like blasts from time to time.  The  mystery deepens as past and present entwine reigniting old feuds, while also growing friendships just when loneliness  and loss is nearly too much to bear.

Does the heart of the explorer live in all of us?  Are exploration and wonder opposite sides of the same coin?  How far would you be willing to go to discover and achieve your goals?

I had so many delicious questions when I finished reading The Water Castle.  It is a book I would love to read with a group.  I want to know what other readers think.  I want to know what you think and what you would do if given the choice.  I hope you’ll read The Water Castle and leave a comment to let us know what you would do.

New Lands

New Lands (The Chronicles of Egg, #2)by Geoff Rodkey

325 pages of adventure and intrigue for middle and upper-grade readers

New Lands is the second book in the Chronicles of Egg.  I have come to care about the characters of these books and to wonder how their society and culture evolved.  Nothing is quite as it seems – Egg is running for his life.  He has discovered the truth behind too many secrets and Roger Pembroke needs him silenced.  Roger Pembroke wants to create his own empire.  To do this he must sow the seeds of distrust, feign alliances where none exist and create a facade of charity to mask the cruelty of slavery.  Roger Pembroke is willing to lie, cheat, maim and kill – he is even willing deceive and betray his own daughter.

Mystery and ancient tales surround these lands; there are rumors and misunderstood edicts.  There are pirates and slavers and cannibalistic tribes.  Each event weaves together until you know that what has been considered “good and helpful” is not, and yet you are not totally certain that the opposite is true.  At the end of Deadweather and Sunrise, Egg was orphaned, friendless and alone trying to elude those who would find and murder him.  At the end of New Lands, Egg is with his friends, Guts and Kira, his thought-dead brother, Adonis and his uncle, notorious pirate, Burn Healy.  Certainly much has changed for Egg and yet he is still running for his life from Pembroke only this time he is running from him on a sinking ship that is being hunted down by Ripper Jones.

With Pembroke involved it is hard to tell who is friend and who is foe and that makes for an exciting adventure.  When I finished the first in the series I wasn’t sure how I felt.  I don’t like characters that are cruel because it makes them happy.  I had a hard time reading through the meanness and thoughtless disregard.  Obviously I was intrigued enough to give the second a try and I am glad I did.  I am looking forward to discovering how the battles develop and how the Fist of Ka is eventually discovered – as I am sure it must be in some way or another.  I like Egg and Guts.  I wonder how Kira and Millicent will support them.  What battles will develop.  Usually good triumphs over evil – but will it in these books and do I know which is which?  I don’t think so and that makes the reading interesting for sure.  Discover more about the books here  .  I will be looking for the next books as soon as it’s available.  I think you will too.

The Word Eater

The Word Eaterby Mary Amato

The answer seems simple enough until you begin thinking your way through the 151 pages.  I wonder what you’d do.

What does the birth of a worm and the initiation of a sixth grader have in common?  Well in The Word Eater they begin in the same moment, neither go well and both set in motion actions that will change the world.

Reba – president of MPOOE (Most Powerful Ones on Earth) seems to rule sixth grade at Cleveland Park Middle School along with Randy.  They have divided the class into MPOOE members or SLUGs.  Lerner has just moved to this school, this town, this state and she is not too impressed with what she finds.  She doesn’t want to be a MPOOE, but she doesn’t want to be a SLUG either – she just wants to be left alone.  With Reba around that doesn’t seem to be an option.

Meanwhile in a mud circle at the edge of the playground a worm emerges from its casing.  The other worms of the clan sense its arrival and circle up for the naming waiting eagerly to feel the vibration.  The worm is teeny – almost nothing at all, but it is able to move on little skinch to earn the name Fip. Once named, Fip is carried on to the eating ceremony, but Fip doesn’t seem to be able to stomach the taste of dirt.  Fip’s clan always eats dirt and because he doesn’t he is left on his own.  He discovers he has a taste for sweet and crunchy, crisp and crinkly words.    And what he eats disappears.

No one understands this at first, but soon Lerner catches on.  She realizes that this worm, no bigger than a grain of rice has amazing power.  She is the one who can use that power.  Perhaps she will be able to undo all her recent moving misery.  But while as Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power, “ he also said, “Appetite for too much power caused the angels to fall.”  Lerner is faced with a dilemma – how can she best use this power?  Should she?  Can she changes things and make them better?  Everything, she discovers, is connected.  What would he do with the power to change the world?

The Girl Who Could Fly

The Girl Who Could Flyby Victoria Forester

328 pagesof unpredictable action that will leave you smiling in the end – though you won’t be certain until the very end

There’s a hawk calling outside my window. It’s soaring above the field.  That is something I have always admired.  If I could fly I would!  And that is what Piper McCloud can do, in fact must do   She is a natural born floater.  She can fly but has learned that “raw talent only gets you so far in the world and the rest is a whole lot of practice, persistence and perspiration.”  Piper loves to fly.  She loves the feeling and the freedom but she has been forbidden  because it is different.  Ma likes things to be predictable and the same.  Because Piper is anything but predictable and the same, Ma keeps her at home all the time and watches very closely.  That’s fine, but Piper is lonely.  She longs for a friend, someone to share with.   When they opportunity of the ice cream social comes along, Piper promises to be good but then the taunting and the frustration of the baseball routing get the best of her.  Piper flies to catch a ball and then everyone knows for sure – there is something totally unique about Piper McCloud.  In Lowland County that is not good.  News of the flying girl spreads around the globe and that is how Piper meets Dr. Hellion.

Dr Hellion assures Piper that there are others like her.  She explains that she has created an institute where children like Piper can develop their skills and fulfill their dreams. Piper wants to fly around the world and meet other fliers and make the world a better place.  That is what she is promised once she’s been to school and learned what she needs to know.   And so Piper leaves home and goes to the institute.  There is a classroom and it is full of children but it is not anything like she had hoped.  It is harsh and cold, but still Piper is determined to make the best of it.  She is determined to be friendly and kind.  She is determined to find the best in others and when she discovers the secrets happening on the different levels Piper is determined to address the cruelty, no matter what the dangers are.  They may be insurmountable, but is there anything that can keep Piper McCloud down?  You’ll have to read to find out.  I love the twists and turns of this story – nothing is ever really what it seems and I think that’s a good thing!

Middleworld

Fresh hot pizza. Ice Cold Gelato. A classic Italian meal. But this picture perfect image is shattered for Max when his parents, archaeologists obsessed with the Maya, decide to cancel the family vacation in Italy and go on a ‘dig’. He is furious that he isn’t going to Italy and he has to stay with the family’s strange housekeeper, Zia. With his parents gone, Max has nothing to do… until Zia tells him that his parents need him and she gives him a ticket to San Xavier, where the dig is located. In San Xavier, Max has a spectacular adventure with a smart, pretty Maya girl (“out of his league” he thinks secretly), a quirky archaeologist and professor, talking monkeys battling against the evil schemes of Count Antonio de Landa. Read Middleworld by J&P (Jon and Pamela) Voelkel and you will not regret it.

AWESOME website for the Jaguar Stones series accessed here.

Click here for the publisher’s (EgmontUSA) review of the book.

Buy this book from Amazon.com!

Don’t forget to read Book Two of the series, The End of the World Club… it’s just as good.

Click on the cover of the book (↑) to buy the book from Amazon.com.

The Humming Room

The Humming RoomThe Humming Room

by  Ellen Potter

magical realism

Hearing my mother read The Secret Garden was magical.  I lived in rural New Hampshire and I thought she had too, but when she read aloud to me she used a Yorkshire accent.  She brought the book to life and from then on I knew that other people’s lives were very different from mine.  She seemed to know what it was like to run through the heather.  She even knew how Mary would sound differently – my mother?!?!  That’s the first time I knew at 7 that books could open the world to you and take you places you never knew were there.  I’ve loved that The the Secret Garden forever  because of that.  I have cherished the wick branches and the bramblely garden that comes to life and beauty.

When I read “inspired by The Secret Garden” on the cover of The Humming Room  I knew it was a book I should explore.  (Besides I had come to like Ellen Potter from the quirky Kneebone Boy and I wondered how those two things might come together.)

Roo Fanshaw’s secret skill is hiding.  Her life has been a hard one and becoming invisible is a skill she has needed to perfect.  It is what saves her when her parents are murdered and it is what allows her to notice what others do not see once she moves to Cough Rock Island to stay at her eccentric uncle’s home.

This home is full of ghosts and secrets.  Roo does not believe in either and uncovers them all with the help of Jack, a gentle island boy who helps her learn island ways and life.  Roo finds the sadness hidden in the house and carefully brings it light and life and care.  With this help the sadness blossoms into life and that’s what all things need if you are going be part of the world.

I liked how the extras, the postman and the tutor added interesting twist to the story.  I liked  how the history of the setting – a tuberculosus sanitorium – added to the mystery and the magic.  I appreciated how determination and observation, care and commitment bring life back to those who are fragile.  I think you will too.  After you’ve discovered  The Humming Room  pass it on.  It is a story to share.

The Dreamer

TThe Dreamerhe Dreamer is the story of Pablo Neruda.  As the jacket flap says, “Combining elements of magical realism with biography, poetry, literary fiction, and sensorial, transporting illustrations, Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis take readers on a rare journey of the heart and imagination.” A rare journey indeed…through words and sounds, colors and emotions, joy and agony.

The collector in me immediately connected with the shy, determined Neftali.  His shelves of feathers, rocks, shells and nests and his daily joy in looking at and seeing the wonders around him spoke to me. His days of dreaming and wondering are like quiet meditations.  Those calm languid feelings collide abruptly with the harsh anger and bitter barked commands as his father enters the story.  Neftali is never enough, never quite right, never important.  His moments of shame and humiliation are painful stinging slaps stinging showing another side of reality.  Never enough, until finally, Neftali Reyes in becoming Pablo Neruda found the way to follow his heart without shaming his family name.

The words, the pictures, the poems make this a strikingly beautiful book, but it is not for everyone – lovers of action and a tightly woven plot will likely find the pace tedious, but readers who savor the shimmer of well polished words like these when Neftali first sees the ocean…

“Neftali’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of the infinite colors and the gentle curve of the faraway horizon. He had never imagined the height of the white spray breaking against the rocks, the dark sand, or the air that whispered of fish and salt. He stood, captivated, feeling small and insignificant, and at the same time as if he belonged to something much grander.”

… will enjoy each and every moment.

The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only IvanThe One and Only Ivan

by Katherine Applegate

320 pages that will make you think and wonder, imagine and cry

Ivan is a silverback gorilla.  He lives alone in his small domain in the Exit 8 Big Top Mall.  Yes, that’s right a mall.  Ivan is there with Stella and a stray dog, Bob who sneaks into Ivan cage for comfort, companionship and warmth.  Once a star attraction, the mall is no long doing very well so Mack, Ivan and the mall’s owner, must do something about that.

Mack brings in a new baby elephant, Ruby, as the new star attraction.  Ruby lives with Stella, until an unattended infection leaves her weak and dying.  Her last wish extracts a promise from Ivan – he must find a way to make sure Ruby does not spend her life alone in the mall; he must find her a better place.

Julia, the janitor’s daughter, comes to the mall most days to do her homework while her dad cleans.  Over time she has discovered that Ivan is an artist.  She has given him paper and crayons.  Mack has discovered Ivan’s artistic talent too.  What Ivan draws, Mack sells.  He doesn’t look as closely as Julia does.  She sees what Ivan is working to represent. Julia knows it is more than just a scribble.

Ruby brings new life to Ivan. Watching Westerns and romances is no longer enough. Living in a day-to-day haze is no longer enough. Her questions lead Ivan to remember. For years, not remembering has been Ivan’s habit. He prefers not to think of his past, either with his family in Africa or as a young gorilla who didn’t have to stay confined to the mall. But soon he is telling what he does remember of the past to Ruby.

The young elephant also brings a new urgency to Ivan’s art. Ivan has a plan.  He has an idea of how he can keep his promise to Stella.  Every night he paints.   All the little pictures lead toward one goal. All Ivan has to do is find a way to make someone, anyone, understand what he is telling through his art?

The One and Only Ivan is a book that will change you.  You will wonder at the endurance, friendship, kindness and commitment found in the characters.  You will question and wonder – and then you will discover that this story is based on a real Ivan, and you will wonder even more.  How?  Why? Can we be more mindful, more empathetic, more involved.  Read The One and Only Ivan, you’ll be glad you did!

The Kneebone Boy

288 pages – great for 4th or 5th graders and up

Living in Little Tunks, (no big tunks) a small town in the middle of nowehere can be hard. It is harder still when you are the Hardscrabble children, the kids that are treated as if they had a monstrous case of chicken pox. They live alone with their father, because their mother had mysteriously disappeared. Their father usually gives them a few weeks to warm up to the fact that he is going away, but this time, no. He packs their bags, and whisks them away to London to stay with their cousin Angela. But when these adventuresome kids run into the dead end of Angela being on vacation, they have to fend fro themselves on the dangerous streets of London.

Ellen Potter delivers an awesome storyline, an incredibly discreet sense of humor (not a bad thing, a good thing) and some excellent characters in The Kneebone Boy. This was a great read!

Ellen Potter’s website is here.

Sweet on Books, a new book website I found that has a really good perspective on The Kneebone Boy, and it even has some book group questions for teachers.* (*Psst, kids, you can use the questions too, for homework in a pinch!)

Buy this book on Amazon.com!

Breadcrumbs

BreadcrumbsBreadcrumbs

by Anne Ursu

312 pages with an intriguing twist to an Anderson’s fairy tale – It will make you wonder… where is your place?  How do your fit?

For all Hazel knows maybe the changes began with a perfect snowfall of brilliant snowflakes – the morning of the snowball. Or perhaps they began when a magic mirror broke, hurling shards of glass to earth and changing all those they touched. Hazel didn’t know when, how or why the changes started, but she knows her best friend, Jack, changed suddenly.  He was mean. So now the only person who helped her fit in, doesn’t anymore.  She is alone, confused and sad. Now stories are all she has.

She doesn’t fit in at home. She supposed to try harder to stay in reality and not pretend so much.  She doesn’t fit at school.  She supposed to learn the facts and know the rules.  And now she doesn’t fit with Jack either – and he was the one who shared her stories and helped her know all the rules.  What will she do?

And then he’s gone.  Vanished.  Tyler, the one at school who calls her “Crazy Hazy” tells her he saw Jack go off in a sleigh with a snow lady.  Hazel knows immediatly it is the witch from a story, her story. How can that be?   Hazel decides to follow the white witch into the woods.  She knows stories.  She knows she has to.   It’s the only thing Hazel can do because she must find Jack and bring him home or like in all the stories, the magic will trap him forever.

This is a fun book of friendship, stories, enchantment and adventure.  There are connections to lots of different books and stories.  What can happen when story and reality collide – sometimes it’s wonderful, but not always.  Have fun following the breadcrumbs into the woods.  I hope the birds don’t eat them before you are ready to return.