The Royal Ranger

17465470an exciting adventure for intermediate and middle grade readers – love the characters, the action and commitment of people to others

I was so excited to see Ranger’s Apprentice  by John Flanagan.  I admired the characters of the Ranger’s Apprentice series –   Will, Evenlyn, Horace.  I appreciated how time passed in the series and how these characters changed and grew to accept the responsibilities of leadership in their beloved Araluen.    I lived along side them and walked every step of the way in their efforts to stand for all that is good among people.  I celebrated with Halt and Pauline and mourned the loss of Alyss.   I knew her death would be so devastating to Will.

And it was.  It cast Gillen into the disturbing dilemma where he might be force to remove Will from the Ranger Corp.  On the brink of being forced to make this devastating decision, Halt has an idea.  He makes a suggestion that could lead Will away from the path of self-destruction, aid Cassandra and Horace at a time when their leadership must be sure and unclouded and bring new life into the faltering Corp.  Everything is about to change in The Royal Ranger – the balance rests in the heart, hands and head of one girl.  Will she rise to the challenge of change and demands of commitments made?  Is she strong enough, talented enough, dedicated enough?  You’ll have to read book 12 to find out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed – unless you’re like me and found it over too soon.

Flora and Ulysses

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresFlora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is funny, touching, thought-provoking and nutty.  It is an amazing combination of things.  At first is seems impossible that a vacuum cleaner and a squirrel, a round-headed girl and romance novel writing mother can fit together in one story.  Add in temporarily blind great nephew (William Spivers), a shepardess lamp named Mary Jane, typewriters, poetry and comic book phrases and it seems impossible for a story to emerge, but it does.

Holy Bagumba!  It does.

In the opening pages of the book, Tootie Tickham is given a Ulysses 2000X multi-terrain vacuum cleaner for her birthday.  Flora Belle Buckman, the Tickman’s neighbor, watches as Mrs. Tickman is dragged into the yard by the wildly sucking machine and witnesses the horror of a squirrel being sucked into the vacuum.  The squirrel causes the vacuum cleaner to stop and Flora rushes out to see what she can do.

Being an avid reader of The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto, along with her favorite bonus comics “TERRIBLE THINGS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU!”, Flora has a great deal of knowledge and information to bring to this situation.  She gently administers CPR to the squirrel .

“The squirrel was a little unsteady on his feet.

His brain felt larger, roomier.  It was as if several doors in the dark room of his self (doors he hadn’t even known existed) had suddenly been flung wide.

Everything was shot through with meaning, purpose, light.

However the squirrel was still a squirrel.

And he was very hungry.  Very.”

From that moment on you’ll be on Flora and the squirrel’s (named Ulysses after the vacuum that nearly took him out of this world) side, hoping they’ll find a place in the world that is accepting, safe and thoughtful.

You can’t help but love each of the characters for their quirks, their honesty and their willingness to go on in a much less than perfect world.  Holy Bagumba!

Those who read for the words – their flow and phrasing can’t help but be thrilled.  I enjoyed every page of Flora and Ulysses.  What did you think?

The Mysterious Woods of Whistle Root

The Mysterious Woods of Whistle Rootby Christopher Pennell

a mysterious fantasy for intermediate readers who love a  great story

Carly can’t sleep at night.  It is impossible for her and this makes her life hard.  It means she rarely sees the aunt she lives with.  Being 11 she still has to go to school and trying to sty awake for the lessons is nearly impossible.  Her teacher is not very patient and her classmates stay away from her because she is peculiar.

She is different, but that difference is what allows her to see and notice things no one else does.  She sees the squash on the roof.  She hears the music in the breeze and she has started talking to Lewis, her friend the rat.  Lewis plays the violin.  He asks Carly to play the horn and he shares the changes that are happening in the wood.  Something is wrong – the owls have stopped dancing and are capturing the rat musicians.  The cozy peaceful feeling of the wood and the town has been replaced by a sinister, insincere silence.  And it seems as though Carly will be the only one able to collect all the pieces of the stories from the past to save the woods and the beautiful, magical whistle root trees.

I love how the idea of flying by being able to find the handholds in the wind.  I think that stories of the past are important to remember and that tales may not always be “just stories.”  This story is gentle and fierce, funny and serious all at the same time.

The book begins:  “In a small town called Whistle Root, rats play music in the moonlight.  They play on the very rooftops there.  You can hear them if you listen closely in the middle of the night when there’s a slight breeze blowing.  Who knows why they like breezes, but they do.  And moonlight.  You’ll never hear a rat playing music with out moonlight.

The music can be scary.  It sounds as if someone left the radio playing in the closet.  But if you’re brave enough to look in the closet, you won’t find any thing.  And if you’re even braver and look out your window, the music will stop completely.

All of which leads me to the story of a girl named Carly who looked out the window of her upstairs room one night and saw a squash sitting on the roof.”

And from that beginning you’ll be carried off into the magic and monsters, the wonders and worries of Whistle Root.

The Third Door

The Third Doorby Emily Rodda

the final book of the trilogy – very satisfying and surprising – a perfect way for a quest to end

The third door, the wooden door is the one that has been calling Rye and now it is his time to go on the quest of his choosing.  He went through the gold door, found Dirk and brought him home to Weld.  He went through the silver door, found Sholto and brought him back to Weld too.  But Weld is still in danger from the vicious skimmers and Rye cannot rest until he has found a way to undo this evil.  Why is it something Weld must endure?

The land beyond the third door is so familiar – eerily so.   Rye has to figure out what is going on and how Fell and Riverside are connected to his hometown.  Just at the beginning of this leg of the journey Rye is separated from Sonia and his brothers. He loses his memory for a time, but Rye knows there is a mystery hiding behind the shadows and that all is not what it seems. He knows that something must be undone if his family and all the people he has met through his quest are going to survive and live without fear.

Reading The Third Door will have you thinking about families and stories, kindnesses and grudges, forgiveness and jealousy.  How do we honor differences of opinion? What do you choose?  What is important?

Same Sun Here

Same Sun Hereby Silas House and Neela Vaswani

297 pages of letters telling the story of deepening friendship that middle school readers will enjoy and think about – the world is an amazing place

Each year I share the poem Books to the Ceiling by Arnold Lobel with kids in my class.  I adapt it a bit at the end to say “I’ll have snow white hair by the time I read them” rather than a long beard.  That poem is certainly true for me right now.  I have books everywhere waiting to be read.  I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the titles I want to tell you about and all the rest patiently waiting their turn to be opened.

It took me a year to get to Same Sun Here by Silas House and Neela Vaswani.  This book begs to be read aloud and in two voices if you can.  The story is told through the pen pal letters written by River Dean Justice from coal country in Kentucky and Meena Joshi, living in New York City’s Chinatown.  They share everything in their letters – they share their quirks and weirdnesses with each other because through these letters they feel they can let the true selves show.

People who don’t know River might assume he is an uneducated hillbilly.  He tells Meena that’s what a lot of people think.  Big shot businessmen are buying up all the land so they can remove the top of the mountain and take out all the coal.  They think that money can buy everything and since they’ll be leaving when the mountains are gone, they don’t care that the water is polluted or the land isn’t fit for living on.

People who don’t know Meena might assume she is trying to take advantage of this country.  She tells River of how hard her family works and how much to they do to help their neighbor Mrs. Lau so they can stay in the rent control apartment she is allowing them to use.  Meena’s family can’t afford to live anywhere else so they can’t be found out or they’ll be forced to leave.  All of their life has to fit easily into a box so it can disappear if the landlord comes and questions.  Meena is always afraid of losing the life she has because there is no other option.

River and Meena are very different, but very much the same.  Their voices are caring, brave and strong.  Their families are committed to making things better for their children – but they aren’t always able to do that.  The twists and turns and connections of these two friends will surprise, concern and delight you.  River and Meena develop a strong friendship through their letters.  They share so much about themselves and their lives that they will become your friends too.  You’ll be cheering and gasping, hoping and sighing right along with them.

I loved this book.  I hope it is read all over.  It shares lives and places that are not often written about in a way that is real and honest.  Being able to share your own true self is a wonderful gift.

The Show Must Go On!

The Show Must Go On!written by Kate Klise

illustrated by M. Sarah Klise

This is book 1 of the Three Ring Rascals.  When you finish you’ll be glad that there is a plan for more stories with the characters that you’ve come to love.

The book opens with “If you’re ever walking down a dusty road and see a sign that looks like this, STOP and look closely.”  The sign says:  Coming Soon!  Sir Sidney’s Circus   Animals!  Acrobats!  Amazing Feats That Will DAZZLE YOUR EYES and DELIGHT YOUR BRAIN!

Sir Sidney’s circus is the best in the world, but Sir Sidney is getting old and a bit tired of travel.  He loves his circus and his animals, big and small, but he needs some help.  After a day of pacing and listing, considering and wondering Sir Sidney hires certified lion tamer, Barnaby Brambles to manage his circus.  Right from the start things begin to go wrong.  You see Barnaby Brambles doesn’t understand that kindness goes a long way.  He doesn’t consider how all things are connected. If you eliminate one thing or add another what is good doesn’t always remain.  Barnaby Brambles also doesn’t know that all things are not what they seem.  If a deal seems to be too good to be true, it just might be. No, Barnaby Brambles doesn’t think about anything but money and becoming rich.  He cuts corners in every way that he can.  If he thinks he can get away with it, he tries it and he has no qualms about telling a lie if it will get him what he wants.  He is bad, through and through.

What will become of the best circus in the world now that he is in charge?  Will the acrobats perform?  Will the animals be safe and cared for?  You’ll have to read The Show Must Go On! to find out.  It’s smafunderful!

You can Meet the Cast here and learn a more about the book. Which character are you most like?  I’m curious to know what you think.

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.