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.

Seconds – Waiting for Thirds

I’ve been reading – but with the beginning of school, I have not taken the time to tell you about the books.  I’ve decided to remedy that.  I have a large pile to tell you about – so here’s a start.

The White House (I.Q., #2)Right after reading I, Q: Independence Hall, I went to the bookstore to get the next book.  It had taken me quite a while to read this series after all, Skye and Matt recommended it to me four years ago.  But good books stay good until you find them.  That is certainly true for this series.  I, Q: The White House continues following “Match” on their national concert tour.  After performing in Philadelphia they make a quick stop at the White House to perform a private concert for the President, his daughter and son and select invitees.

That is exactly what the terrorist ghost cell has been waiting for.  They quickly activate their plan, sure to cause chaos in the United States.  They have infiltrated the White House staff and are waiting for the perfect moment to disrupt the country.  The twist and turns of the plot had me eagerly following Q and Angela through the White House, meeting the President, learning more about the SOS and keeping track of the plots and counter plots.   Complicated, exciting and intriguing!

Boone and Croc remain a the key to the puzzle of who is working with whom and how they are connected.  Though as more of the past is revealed, and the actions of the present become clearer, questions emerge and linger.  The more you learn, the more mysterious it all seems.  Will Angela’s mother stay alive?  Where is the next ghost cell waiting?  Will the President’s daughter, Bethany be safe?  Are people really who they claim to be?

This thrilling spy adventure surrounds you with interesting characters, richly detailed places and exciting action.  You’ll be wonder “what-if” all the way to the end and when you finish, just as you did when you finished the first I, Q, you’ll have to get the next one and keep reading.

The Silver Door (The Three Doors Trilogy)When I finished The Golden Door, I couldn’t wait to read The Silver Door.  Though there are many books waiting in my pile, I began reading it as soon as it was in my hands.  I love how Emily Rodda creates places and bring their inhabitants to life.  Weld is not a nice place to live, but because Rye and Sonia live there I want to be there with them.  I want to understand why life is the way it is there.  I want the best for them and I so hope their lives will be easier. I hope those they care about will find some happiness by the time their quest comes to an end, but I am not certain my wishes will come true.

I think this is one of the beauties of these books.   While good prevails, evil still exists and I am left wondering what will happen to the characters I care deeply about.  What will happen to the Warden’s daughter?  How are the lands found by going through the gold door connected to the lands that are found on the other side of the silver door? How did magic come to be and why does it seem so corrupt?  Is it only about power and who has it?  What has upset the balance so that so many people live in fear and endure so much deprivation?  I can’t wait until September 24 for The Third Door, the last part of the trilogy so I can find the answers to my questions.  Emily Rodda’s characters, stories and writing are a real treat that I hope many readers find and enjoy.

Melonhead and the Undercover Operation

Melonhead and the Undercover Operationby Katy Kelly

243 pages of deliciously funny, mysterious adventure for middle grade readers

I really like Melonhead.  He makes me laugh.  When I am reading I know things aren’t going to work out – (I thought, “Oh, please make the deliveries first.  Just do it and then go watch.  Oh, you really have to.”  Knowing, of course, that he and Sam would not do that.) – and I can totally understand the reason for the choices they make.  Melonhead is all about doing and working really hard to keep out of trouble so his mom doesn’t have to worry about him.  His dad travels often an in Melonhead and the Undercover Operation he gives Adam a list called The Melon Family Guidelines for Life that he hopes will help Adam and his mom stay calm.  Its a list of 9 actions to consider and take like 2. plan ahead or 4. when in doubt, ask an adult or 8. remember the ways of ladies.  These G’s for L replace the Remind -o-rama with do’s rather than don’ts – and they sort of smooth things out.  Melonhead works very hard to follow them but that can be difficult when you take being a Junior Special Agent for the FBI seriously and you feel certain that the newly posted person on the 10 Most Wanted Criminals in the country lives in your neighborhood.

The characters are terrific – even if they only make a cameo appearance in this book.  The actions are laugh out loud, but not outrageous.  I don’t know which I like best: the human periscopes or the old lady disguises.  I like how Adam and Sam have friend that are girls like Jonique and Lucy Rose and friends that are old like Pops and Madam and Mrs. Wilkins.  And there is a serious side to.  I am glad there are four Melonhead books so far, along with three Lucy Rose books because these are great characters to have around.

The Golden Door

The Golden Doorby Emily Rodda.

Her writing is exciting and suspenseful.  As the reader of fantasy you know some things are bound to happen – the youngest brother is going to be the chosen one, the magic is going to help him at the last minute, the ancient ways have been lost or misunderstood – but with this author, you are not going to know how these elements will unfold, even at the last minute.  I love that!

Rye, pure of heart, is the youngest brother living in a land plagued with skimmers.  They come to Weld by night in search of prey – they eat any living thing they can find, human or beast.  Recently the attacks have been more severe and the Warden needs to take action.  He issues a quest. Any man 18 or older who accepts the terms of the quest will leave by a secret way, previously only known of  through the tales and legends surrounding Sorcerer Dann, Weld’s founder.  While outside the city the quester must find and destroy the source of the skimmers.  Upon returning, he will become the future leader of Weld.  Rye’s oldest brother, Dirk, is strong, steadfast and a determined leader.  He is 18 and among the first to accept the challenge.  A year later he has not returned.  Sholto, the middle brother, is studious, scientific and skeptical. Different, but determined as well in the year while Dirk has been gone he has turned 18.  Sholto is among the second group to go.  Two years later when neither has returned, Rye and his mother move to the Keep because they need the Warden’s protection and support to survive.

Rye can’t bear this life and determines to find his brothers and bring them home.  He too accepts the terms of the quest,  though he does not meet them, and is off, but not before one of The Keep orphans begs to join him.  Rye and Sonia begin their journey.  Readers quickly know that though Rye has deceived the Warden by saying he is 18, he has not broken any of the terms of the quest. He has not going to destroy the skimmers and has no desire to become leader.  He has gone to make his family whole again.  Sonia, too does not meet the terms of the quest, but she is determined to make Weld safe once more.  Readers also know that Rye and Sonia are part of something much larger than they realize.  It seems that Rye is “the one” who will set things right, but what they are and how that will be done is a mystery.    You’ll be eagerly turning page after page to find out why Rye has been chosen, what he will do to fulfill his destiny and how Sonia fit in.

This is the first in a trilogy.  What is exciting as a reader is knowing I will have to wait to the very last page of the last book in order to find the complete answer to my questions and fully understand the magic and mystery that surrounds Rye, Sonia and Weld.

Choosing read alouds…

I am looking for new chapter read alouds for the beginning of the year.  I am searching for a book we can read in a week.  I am looking for a book that will remind my newly minted third graders of the joys of reading and of what they can do.  I know some of them have read off and on over the summer and some of them have not.

I grew up in a lake town.  All winter long we skated and went sledding.  When May came, we waited for the ice to go out.  We waited for the first few warm days and then we’d ride to the town wharf for the first icy plunge.  I remember standing there toes curled over the edge, arm arched above my head readying myself for the first deep dive – a little question niggling at the back of my mind, “after all the days, all these months, will I remember how…” Push.  Splash.  Gasp.  Yes!  I am looking for the perfect book to dive in together.  We’ll go deep and swim back to the surface with the exhilarated feeling of our new reading year begun.

The books should be fun, full adventure, conjure questions and beg us to explore. They should be new to most, if not all, of the readers in our class. And they should open the door to the world of reading for all.

8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel [Divided By] 1 Dog = ChaosSo far I am considering 8 Class Pets +1 Squirrel÷1Dog=CHAOS by Vivian Vande Velde.  In it Twitch, the squirrel, lives outside a school.  He begins the story by explaining how much fun he has on the jungle gyms people leave in their yards for him often centered around a snack bar.  While he’s telling about this new “spinney disc” he loses track of time.  He stays out too late and gets chased away by a swooping owl.  To escape the owl, Twitch unfortunately scampers across a dog’s nose.  The dog takes up the chase.  Twitch is desperate to escape he runs into the first place he finds – the open door of the neighboring school.  The dog runs in too, just as the custodian puts the ladder away, shuts the door and leaves for the night.  Twitch and the dog are locked in and the chase is still on.  The classroom pets of the schoolrooms where the action is taking place, tells how the chase is progressing in each chapter – there are eight.  It’s really great fun – and both nothing you and imagine, and everything you can predict at the same time.  The class will be laughing and shaking their heads in surprise as we reach the end.  That’s why I think that might be a good choice.


Emily's FortuneEmily’s Fortune by Phyllis Naylor Reynolds might also be a good choice.  In it Emily, age eight, suddenly finds herself alone save for her turtle Rufus.  Emily’s mother had worked for wealthy, Miss Luella Nash.  Unfortunately, an untimely carriage accident had left her an orphan.  Her neighbors, Mrs. Ready, Mrs. Aim and Mrs. Fire had tried to help.   Emily had an aunt by marriage – her father’s sister in-law and she had an uncle – her mother’s brother.  Emily didn’t know either of them well, but her memory of Aunt Hilda’ was warm and kind, while her memory of Uncle Victor frightful and fearsome.   The neighbor ladies had asked questions, offered advice and in the end had suggested that she go to live with her Aunt Hilda in Redbud.  To get there Emily would have to go on a train to Trumpet Junction and from there catch a stage coach the rest of the way.  She would be alone – could she do it?  Just that would be hard enough, but that is not all Emily has to deal with.  She has to keep out of the clutches of Catchum Child- Catching Services.  She has to hide from those who would like to kidnap her and from her fierce uncle who has recently become interested in what she can do for him.  This book is suspenseful with just the right amount of surprising twists to keep the story moving.  The characters are interesting – the kind of people you’d like to spend time with and the writing is fun.  You’ll read right up to the end before you discover “what in blinkin’ bloomers Emily is going to do.”

Marty McGuire

White Fur FlyingFrom there I could choose Marty McGuire or White Fur Flying and then I bet we’ll be ready to sink our teeth into a more complex read aloud that really gets us thinking – The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, The Vengekeep Prophecies, The Golden Door…  What would you suggest?  What read aloud do you remember most?

A Box of Gargoyles

A Box of Gargoylesby Anne Nesbet

vampiri samodavi, gargoyles that move, stones full of memories, music that brings the dead to life – there is magic in the legends and magic waiting in a choice

Maya has found her way in Paris with the help of Valko – everything is better with a friend.  Just as she is willing to recognize a little of the happiness hope brings, strange things begin to happen and Henri de Fourcroy is part of them.  He has cast a spell, an enchantment, a bonding?  Something is calling Maya and changing the city: perhaps even undoing the world.

Henri, now a shadow is using what is left of his magic to bring himself back to life.  The Cabinet of Earths may be gone, but he is sure he can bend the rules of the universe once more.  He will only need to convince Maya to give him what he needs – her heart.  He knows she will.   That is how the magic works now that he has bound her to him.   She is his zmey (dragon).   All he must do is wait for her to bring the pieces together. He places his memory into a wall for safekeeping, but the wall doesn’t want to think, to know, to feel, to be – that is not what a rock should do.  The wall resists.  Part of it explodes and the hole that appears it just enough… just enough to give Maya the space to think and choose.  She can decide if the dominoes will just fall as they will or if she will resist and create a new pattern.

Maya is caught in the force of the magic, but Valko is not.  Together they are aware of things that others are not.  They learn about history and heritage.  They learn about change and magic.  Determinism – physics, choice – magic.

A Box of Gargoyles settles the loose ends left from The Cabinet of Earths.  There are always at least two sides of a thing, if not more.  It is important to consider each facet, each color, each choice – they are always there.  When the time is right you’ll know what to do.  It will shine and sparkle like a star.  It will feel warm and happy.  The music of the world will twinkle with peace.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Libraryby Chris Grabenstein

288 pages of puzzles, games, books, fun and friendship – don’t ever give up until it’s time.

(Izzy, you’ll love this one!)

“Don’t worry,” said Kyle.  “Mrs. Cameron isn’t the final judge.  Mr. Lemoncello is.  And since he’s a genius, he will definitely pick the essays you guys all wrote.”

“Undoubtedly,” said Peckleman.

“Thanks, Kyle,” said Miguel.

“I just wish you could win with us,” aid Akimi.

“Well, maybe I can.  Like you said, this is just a Move Back Three Spaces card.  A Take a Walk on the Boardwalk when someone else owns it.  It’s a chute in Chutes and Ladders.  A detour to the Molasses Swamp in Candy Land!”

“Yo, Kyle,” said Miguel.  “Exactly how many board games have you played?”

“Enough to know that you don’t ever quit until somebody else actually wins.”(p. 27)

The grand opening of Alexandriaville’s new public library is in a few days.  Twelve twelve-year olds have a chance to win an essay contest to be selected for an overnight preview party.  The library has been under top-secret construction for five years.  No one had worked on it long enough or on a large enough part of the project to know what the final outcome would be, but no one doubted that it would be anything short of amazing.  The project is being funded by the town’s own “bazillionaire,” Luigi Lemoncello.  As a boy living in a crowded downtown apartment, the library had been his quiet place to think and dream.  The librarian at the time had taken special interest in Luigi – in fact it was she who helped him publish his first game, “Family Frenzy.”  The rest was history.  Luigi Lemoncello had been creating wonderfully, wild games of all kinds since then – the age of 12- and now he was giving something to his town as thanks.

Kyle loved playing games.  He played them all the time, but he wasn’t much into reading and writing and it wasn’t until the day the essays were to be passed in that he knew he had blown it.  But just as he said in the passage above – he decided not to give up until he was certain he had lost and it paid off.  Kyle became one of the essay winners and found himself in the most amazing game of his life.  You see the library sleep over is more than just a special preview.  “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” is the most incredible game ever created.  The whole library is a game board and the children are the pieces.  To win they’ll need to solve riddles, decipher clues and use all their powers of observation.  Once given the rules, they have twenty-four hours to find the secret exit.  Kyle always plays to win, but so do the other eleven players in the game.  Game on!

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is an amazing adventure.  I smiled my way through every page and ended up with even more books on my reading list.  After all the “library is more than a collection of dusty old books.  It is a place to learn, explore and grow!”  Mr. Lemoncello will prove it to you!

To learn more about the books and the author check out this link.  There’s more to book than just the story.  Did you notice it?  I didn’t.





Chainedby Lynne Kelly

242 pages of exploring many different ideas of what it means to be imprisoned and then freed

I had a hard time getting into Chained – people taking advantage of others, people being cruel to others and to animals twined around Hastin, the teller of the story.  Hastin is kind, dedicated, honorable and true and so I struggled to keep reading when is seemed as though everything in his world was conspiring against him.  I am exceptionally glad I did keep reading.  I can name Chained as the best book I have read this summer.

Why, because at the beginning of the story Hastin was kind, dedicated, honorable and true, as well as being innocent and inexperienced.  At the end of the book Hastin had managed to stay true to himself though no one would ever claim him to be innocent or inexperienced again.  “Baba (Hastin’s father) said that a story is no good if you hear one the ending.  You have to know how you got there.  I still cannot say I will ever be thankful for much of what has happened to me, but everything I’ve ever done has brought me here.”  The truth of that statement strikes me.  Chained is full of richly diverse characters who give readers a remarkable opportunity to examine choices and consequences and the power of relationships as they lead you to “here”.

Hastin, Chandra and Amma are poor.  They are able to get by until Chandra is bitten by a mosquito that gives her a disease that can only be treated by medicine and a hospital.  To receive this treatment the family must borrow money.  Desperate to save her daughter, Amma, Hastin’s mother makes an arrangement with a wealthy merchant.  He will pay for Chandra’s care, if Amma will come a work for him as housekeeper and cook.  When Hastin visits her in the town he sees she has been beaten and is kept in a shack.  Hastin begins to look for work to find a way to free his mother from this place and he meets Timir.  Looking to restart his circus, Timir promises Hastin adventure if he is not afraid of work.  Of course he is not and when Timir agrees to settle Amma’s debt in exchange for one year of work caring for the elephant.  Arrangements are made, and before Hastin knows whether Chandra has survived, he is whisked off into the forest and the circus.  Hastin quickly learns that Timir is not the benevolent soul he appeared to be – he is cruel, vicious and dishonest.  He has no intention of ever releasing Hastin from his service. No matter what agreement had been made, Hastin has no hope of returning home.

It is through this hardship that Hastin learns more of who he is and how he want to be.  Nandita, the elephant, and NeMin, the ancient cook, become Hastin’s new family.  It is from their wisdom and example that he learns to avoid the pitfalls of desperation and despair.  Their examples allow him to stay committed to living an honorable life, never making choices leading to regret.  Hastin remains as strong as a stone, as steadfast as an elephant and as bight as a candle.  If we could all be a bit like Hastin, what an amazing world we would find ourselves in.

I can’t wait to share this book with a group of students.  I can’t wait to find out how they feel and what they will react to.  So many favorite images and characters that will stay with me always.  A powerfully thoughtful book!


Wednesdays in the Tower

Wednesdays in the Towerby Jessica Day George

225 pages of magic and mystery that will leave you eagerly waiting for more

Wednesdays in the Tower follows Tuesdays at the Castle and picks up the story of Celie, Rolf, Lilah, Pogue, Lulath and now Bran and King and Queen Glower.  Celie has finished her atlas enough so that she feels it is ready to be copied and shared with others.  She knows that her maps will never fully be accurate because new rooms will still come and unused rooms will still go, after all Castle is magic.  Celie loves Castle.  She cares for it and because of that she also feels its present discomfort.  Castle is changing.  Rooms are coming without need and they are old and unused.  The holiday feasting room arrives with no holiday in sight.  A room full of fabrics appears with patterns and fashions hundreds of years old.  A map room shows up but with maps of places no one knows and there’s an armory lined with suits of armor and weapons, the uses of some are unknown but dangerously enchanted.  Castle seems upset, angry, maybe, ill.  It’s as if the rooms are coming from another place and time.  Why?  What is Castle’s story?

Bran, now the Royal Wizard, sends to the College of Wizardry and asks for help with the armory because of the magic weaponry.  Amidst the concern regarding the new unpredictability of Castle, no one but Celie notices the new tower.  It’s beyond the schoolroom and in it Celie finds a pumpkin-sized orange egg on a nest of moss and twigs.  Celie, with Castle’s help, cares for the egg and keeps it safe until it hatches.  The hatchling is a griffin and Celie immediately loves the creature and names him Rufus.

Castle will only allow her to reveal the griffin to a selected few.  Why Castle would bring her a griffin and at the same time want to her to keep it a secret?  Meanwhile, Wizard Awkright arrives, not the wizard Bran had hoped the college would send.  He instantly puts both the royal family and Castle on edge.  His mysterious appearances and unusual interest in what Celie is doing, along with his abrupt comments and near threats to the royal family create a suspicious air.  What is he doing?  Why is he really there?  It is clear Castle doesn’t know what to make of his actions either.  Just when you think you know Celie, Rolf and Rufus, Lilah and Lulath find themselves in a whole new place.  Can Castle find them there?

The adventure and mystery that surrounds Wednesdays in the Tower pulls you through the pages to a satisfying ending and leaves you at a new beginning.  You’ll be looking for the next book in the series and wondering what awaits you at Castle Glower.

Fantastic Mr. Dahl

Fantastic Mr. Dahlby Michael Rosen (self-proclaimed biggest fan)

Matt’s interest in Roald Dahl is what sparked my interest in Michael Rosen’s Fantastic Mr. Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Written by a writer about a writer this book tells us of Dahl’s life by using Boy and Flying Solo and the many letters written between home and school that Dahl’s mother had lovingly saved.  The biography shares how life and writing intertwine and intersect.  It’s interesting to see how even the letters written by a schoolboy at ten portend the author Dahl will become.  In one Roald wrote to his sister, Alfhild, saying:  “The barber is a very funny man, his name is Mr. Lundy, when I went to have my hair cut last Monday, a lot of spiders came out from under the cupboard and he stepped on them and there was a nasty squashy mess on the floor.”  Can’t you hear words like those coming from The Twits or The Witches.

Rosen thinks about and describes how he can see the “writer” in Dahl well before Dahl considered becoming a writer himself.  He uses the ‘Great Mouse Plot’ from Boy as an example of how life mirrors writing.  Rosen explains:

            …If the story about the mouse and the sweetshop lade is true (and we can never be absolutely, totally sure about that), and it really was Roald whoe came up with the ‘Great Mouse Plot’, then I think he had already begun to invent ways of writing.


Because if you plot and plan a trick, you need to think ahead and imagine ‘What would happen if…?’  If you’re some how live to imagine ‘What would happen if…?’ such as ‘What would happen if my best friend turned into a cat…?’ then you’re well on the way to being a writer.

The biography is a combination of life-story, photographs, illustrations and fun facts helping us discover how the writer and the writing came to be.  Rosen says, “Time is something that every writer needs.  Time to think, wonder, dream, plan and collect.  And Roald Dahl had plenty of that.”  We are very glad he did.  His stories are favorites from James to Matilda and all the others in and around and in between.