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  The cozy peaceful feeling of the wood and the town has been replaced by a sinister, insincere silence.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 Romeo and Juliet Code

The Romeo And Juliet Codeby Phoebe Stone

291 pages of family, codes, adventure and spies – perfect for intermediate and middle readers (Got to say – I don’t get the cover.  It doesn’t make sense to me at all.)

You’re 11, living in London with your mom and dad.  Your friends think they’re dashing and daring and glamorous – like a Hollywood couple.  Perhaps, but all you know is that they are your everything.  It’s 1941 though and there is a war going on.  Your city is being bombed and most of your friends and their families have fled into the country.  Your dad is an American citizen.  His family is in Maine and so your family decides this is a safer place for you.

You sail across the ocean on the Queen Anne – painted entirely gray, portholes included so no light can escape giving her away to enemy eyes -, drive along the coast of Maine and meet Uncle Gideon, Aunt Florence and The Grams.  After an hour or so you watch your dashing, daring, glamorous parents drive off, knowing they will be traveling back to London and there you are in your new home for now.  Everything is different and strained.

That’s what happens to Felicity Bathburn Budwig in The Romeo and Juliet Code.  The summer is beginning and everything seems bad and wrong.   This new family seems angry with her Winnie and Danny (what she calls her mom and dad) and they won’t tell her why.  On top of that her Danny writes letters to her uncle – she is sure of it though her uncle says she is wrong and doesn’t know his handwriting at all – but her Danny doesn’t write to her.  Felicity doesn’t know where her mom and dad are.  She is alone except for Wink, her bear, who does know how alone and sad and afraid she is.

With time Felicity learns about the Bathburns, her new family, and she comes to understand and love them.  She discovers she loves to cook with The Grams and read with Aunt Miami (Florence decided she needed a younger sounding name – she’s just 22).  Aunt Miami loves Romeo and Juliet.  Felicity, on Uncle Gideon’s recommendation, reads The Little Princess.  She discovers her cousin Derek, recovering from polio, and builds a strong relationship with him as they seek to uncover the mystery behind the letters sent to Uncle Gideon from Portugal, but written (Felicity is certain) by her Danny.

With every page I turned I longed for Felicity to get a letter from her mom and dad.  I celebrated every comfort and every discovery made while I waited for her to find answers to her questions and solutions for her lonely confusions.  You’ll be waiting for them too  – filling with hope as she races to meet the postman, smiling at the variety show rehearsals, and feeling the coziness of a small town while you come to understand how Felicity fits in this place and how she will find a home there.

Perhaps the best thing about reading The Romeo and Juliet Code is knowing that Romeo Blue, the sequel, is sitting in my “to read” pile so I can spend more time with characters I love, in a place I would like to be, discovering more of the mystery and intrigue that surrounds the Bathburn family.  Reviews say the second book might be better than the first.  I don’t know how that could be possible, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

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.

Hold Fast

Hold FastBlue Balliett

What is the dream you keep in your heart? What is the rhythm that makes your heart sing?

It may not be fancy, but it certainly feels just right.  Early Pearl is part of a family of four.  There’s Dashel her dad, Summer, her mom and Jubilation (Jubie for short), her younger brother.  Together they are Dashsumearlyjubie, a celebration of rhythm and caretakers of words.  In the Pearl family words are “for choosing, admiring, keeping, giving.  They are treasures of inestimable value.”  The family has a notebook for interesting words – recorded by origin and definition and another for important quotes worth remembering.

Together the four Pearls fit snuggly into their Woodlawn apartment.  They dream one day of having a house – a dream similar to those kept by Langston Hughes.   Their ordinary, yet joyful life skids and crashes to a stop when Dash’s bike is found crumpled in the street, groceries strewn across the snowy sidewalk, but no man.  He has disappeared – but how and why.  Is he gone?  Did he just decide to leave?

Without Dash there is no rhythm in their lives.  They are four Pearls.  How can they become three?  And as if losing Dash isn’t enough, thugs come into their home taking everything of value and smashing all they leave.  They even take the family books of words and quotes.  Nothing is right.  There is no beat.  The Pearls can’t seem to find their rhythm.  As they are plunged into the homeless shelter system of Chicago they find it harder and harder to hold onto their dreams.  Nothing works – in fact it seems as though the rules are set up to keep the Pearls from getting the help they need to make changes in their lives – to keep dreams alive. “’I’m sorry, baby,’ Summer says to Early after a few days in the shelter.  ‘It’ll feel refreshing to get to school tomorrow, and if you can just keep an eye on Jubie for a few more hours, that’ll be the best help ever.’  Early nodded numbly.  She thought of all the fun things they’d had at home – Play-Doh, paints and crayons, paper, toys…and, of course books.  They’d gone on trips to the local library, sometimes twice a week.  Made cookies with Sum.  Had blocks and Legos to build with.  It had all felt normal then, but so much choice now seemed a luxury.”

While reading this book I also reread the collections of Langston Hughes poems – Dream Keepers and other poems and Love to Langston.  I started thinking more about words and rhythms.  I paused to consider all we have that goes unnoticed.  People are amazingly strong – but how much easier our lives would be if we all remembered kindness.  The mystery of this book may not be as compelling as those in Blue Balliett’s other books but I loved the flow of the story from the “click” through the “crash, cling and clutch” and on to the “chase, catch and cast.”  What dream do you hold on to?  How do you honor the dreams of those around you?

Horten’s Incredible Illusions

Horten's Incredible Illusions: Magic, Mystery & Another Very Strange AdventureHorten’s Incredible Illusions picks up where Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms leaves off.  The illusions Stuart found stored in the bandstand are moved to the museum for preservation and 10-year-old Stuart Horten is given a job curating his uncle’s magical contraptions.  Stuart and April (the one of the April, May, June triplets who is serious about uncovering a mystery) are charged with naming and describing these illusions.  They give them enticing names like “The Cabinet of Blood,” and “The Book of Peril,” but the magical devices each hold a secret – a secret that must be revealed in order to find Uncle Tony’s long-lost will.  Once activated, the contraptions whisk Stuart and his friend April away to other realms, where their wits and their friendship are gravely tested.

 “So maybe that’s how it works,” said April.  “We find how the trick operates – the switch or the swivel or the lock or the handle or whatever – and that’s where the Magic Star goes.”

She gave a bounce of excitement.  “So let’s get going!  This is the next one, isn’t it?  The next adventure.”

There’s more going on in this story than illusion and adventure.  Have you ever thought that maybe illusions work by knowing what people will look for instead of seeing what is actually there?  Have you ever wondered what the difference between seeing and observing is?  You might after reading this book.   How often to you slow down enough to notice how you might help those around you?  When you’ve finished reading Horten’s Incredible Illusions the magic will stick with you.  You’ll be hoping for more.

a note:  You don’t have to have read the first to enjoy the second – but I bet when you finish, you’ll find the first and read it too.  The characters and the story are too fun to miss.

Ginger Pye

“One thing that Jerry Pye wanted more than anything else in the world right now was a dog. Ever since he had seen the new puppies in Speedys’ barn, he was not only more anxious than ever to have a dog, he was most anxious than ever to get one of these Speedy puppies. He had the particular one picked out that he would most like to have as his own. This was not easy to do for they were all wonderful.” (Pages 1-2, Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes)

Jerry Pye, as you can tell, loves everything dogs. Mr. Pye, Mrs. Pye, and Rachel Pye are his family, and they are very interesting people. They are supportive of Jerry as he works for his dollar and finally, he buys his dog.  His new, “intellectual,” and, “wonderful,” dog is named Ginger. Ginger Pye. But strange activity starts happening involving Ginger, like mysterious footsteps on the day Ginger was being picked up, and then other things. The Pye Family is enjoying Ginger so much but then…. he disappears!! Where could he have gone???? You will find out when you read Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes.

Click HERE for the LibraryThing description of Eleanor Estes and HERE for the description of Ginger Pye.

This book was published in 1951, so there is no author or book website but the LibraryThing descriptions are sufficient.

My mom loved this book so much that we convinced her that we needed to get a dog. And she wanted to name our new dog Ginger. Sorry, but her name is Lucy.

Lucy, my dog, when she was a puppy. Now she’s 60lbs.

Splendors and Glooms

Splendors and Gloomsby Laura Amy Schlitz

400 pages of eerie delight and gruesome mystery

Splendors and Glooms is a creepy, captivating story; dark and light at once.  Gaspare Grisini, is a devilishly evil puppeteer who owns two children that do his bidding and work:  Lizzie Rose, noble and true and Parsefall, a talented scamp.  They perform marionette shows around the streets of Victorian London, an “icy stew of mud and straw, horse manure and urine.”

It is at one of these shows that their paths cross with Clara Wintermute, the daughter of a well to do doctor.  Clara’ life, though blessed, is far from happy. Her four siblings have all died of cholera and she bares the secret shame of surviving.  Secrets and lies, combined with magic and morbid cruelty unite the children in a fight for survival and a desire to live with honest care and love.

The final part of the story develops through the tale of the dying witch, Cassandra.  She has drawn her lasting power from the fire opal that is now consuming her very life.  As she tries to save herself she calls them all from the city.  Grisini, Lizzie Rose, Parsefall  and the magic that surrounds, consumes and saves them.  Spells are woven and broken as the children discover only they can undo the folly and malevolence placed on earth by the blinding greed of adults.

This book makes my skin crawl.  The image rich language brings history to life – every bit of it; the feel, the sound, the smell.   Poverty is here, desperate and raw – in striking contrast between those with warm food and gifts and parties.  Those with

means and those without is strongly is a vivid image in this book for me.  That children can be bought and sold because there is no one to care for them, and then once bought, there is no public eye to their continuing care and well-being makes me wonder.  Have times changed all that much?

Read Splendors and Glooms for its unique story, its incredible language, it’s vivid look into history and lingering images that stay with you long after you are done reading.  Will you be inspired to learn more, to take action and to recognize the need to kindnesses in our lives no matter how small?


Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms

Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, & a Very Strange Adventureby Lissa Evans

270 pages of prestidigitation, puzzles and illusion – an entertaining middle grade read

Stuart Horten is an only child.  His parents, though clever, are not fully involved in Stuart’s comings and goings.  His mom is a scientist and his dad creates crosswords.  They have their things and Stuart has his – lots of friends, a great yard, a bike, a tree house, and a pond to explore. Life was pretty good until his mom got a new job, his dad discovered that the job was near his old hometown and it being the end of the school year the Hortens could easily move.  Suddenly the boy who had everything with the whole summer ahead of him, found he had nothing with the whole summer ahead of him.

Stuart did still have his bike, but he had nowhere to go, no friends to be with and nothing at all to do.  Out of boredom Stuart went for a walk with his dad.  That walk was the beginning of journey into history, into magic and into a different dimension of time and space. On that walk Stuart learned of a great uncle who had disappeared.  He learned that this man had been an accomplished magician – not the have fun at a birthday party kind, but the amaze and dazzle a full theater kind.  And he learned that he had left his father one last present. It was a money box that was MUCH more than it seemed.

Not long after Stuart had made those first discoveries, he got a call on a phone, no longer connected,  leaving him with a cryptic message.  He couldn’t resist and decided to follow up on it going as far as he could.  This begins Stuart’s amazing adventure.  It gets more mysterious and dangerous with each step.  It is exciting and fun.  Read Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms – Magic, Mystery and a Very Strange Adventure to find out if Stuart is the right sort of boy to unravel a fifty year old mystery and discover the difference between illusion and true magic before it is all lost forever.

Three Times Lucky

Three Times Luckyby Sheila Turnage

256 pages of serious fun for middle grade readers

Right from the start-“Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt.” – you know that Three Times Lucky is something good to read.  Mo LaBeau is a “rising sixth grader” with an interest in uncovering the truth.  She was washed into Tupelo Landing in the middle of a hurricane 11 years ago and she has been searching for her “up-stream mother” ever since.  In the meantime she has found her home with the café-owning, Colonel and hostess/cook extraordinaire, Miss Lana.  And that is where badge-wearing, Jack Starr stops to begin his investigation.

Nothing seems to be staying the same.  One minute Mo is planning on fishing with her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, the next she can’t because she is needed to serve at the café.  Miss Lana is gone.  The three-day rule – you can’t be gone from the family without calling by the third day – is stretched.  And then there is a murderer around town.  Miss Lana returns, but the Colonel leaves.  Lavender crashes in the race and Dale is implicated in the murder.  Mo has so many questions and confusing connections that discovering the truth is a real challenge.  In that challenge Desperado Detectives is born.  Mo and Dale want to solve the murder before Starr and with the help of some first-rate informants, courage and determination their investigation progresses.  It doesn’t always go smoothly, easily or without danger but a much is uncovered.

How will the murder get solved?  What will happen when Hurricane Amy hits? What is it that the Colonel can’t remember?  How do all these pieces fit together? Three Times Lucky is full of amazing characters, wit and charm.   You’ll read to find out how the Macon’s deal with his often-drunk dad, to find out if Anna Celeste Simpson will always remain Mo’s “sworn enemy for life” and to discover how life has changed in Tupelo Landing once the investigation is complete.

If you liked Turtle in Paradise, Moon Over Manifest or Dead-End in Norvelt then you’ll certainly enjoy Three Times Lucky.  Read it and let us know what you think.


The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling

Have you ever encountered a group of children that are just out of control? Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia from The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling are probably three times worse that what you’re imagining.

Miss Penelope Lumley sees an ad about a governess for three children– and the ad says the governess is needed at once. So, setting off on a long journey, Penelope is forced to leave the safety of Swanburne Academy, a school for poor bright females and travels to Ashton Place, where Lady Constance and Lord Frederick Ashton live. Driven by Timothy the Coachman, one of the Ashton’s highly trusted servants, Penelope soon realizes that something is wrong at Ashton Place.

Agatha Swanburne, founder of Swanburne Academy once said, “A book is always judged by it’s cover until it is read.”  Now Penelope is about to read “a book”, and meet the suspiciously nervous Lady Constance, and question about why Timothy the Coachman lurks around every corner, and find out if she can train the children that were raised by wolves to act like normal kids.

Click on the image of the book (above) to view the website of the Incorrigibles.

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