Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Secret Keepers--Shelf Awareness

Mid Grade Review: The Secret Keepers

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart, illus. by Diana Sudyka (Megan Tingley/Little, Brown, $18.99 hardcover, 512p., ages 9-12, 9780316389556)

Eleven-year-old Reuben Pedley considers himself a "sneaker." While his caring but harried mom works two jobs and still barely manages to support them, Reuben enjoys solitary summer days sneaking around the Lower Downs, the worst neighborhood of New Umbra, a place "as gloomy and run-down as a city could be." One day, Reuben squeezes into the narrowest alley he's ever seen, and climbs to a dangerously high ledge. While holding on for dear life, he finds a beautiful, spherical antique pocket watch lodged in the brick wall. It looks valuable, and Reuben hopes to sell it for enough money to "turn things around for him and his mom."

But Reuben quickly learns the watch has an incredible secret power. He knows he must keep it out of the hands of The Smoke, a "monstrous individual" who unofficially rules the city. Unfortunately, the bands of men who patrol New Umbra, taking payouts and reporting back to The Smoke's representative, are already looking for him. The Smoke wants Reuben's watch, and will do anything to get it. The boy sleuths his way to nearby Point William's historic lighthouse, where he discovers the story behind the centuries-old watch, as well as two unexpected allies in spirited 10-year-old Penny Meyer and her brother, Jack.

Trenton Lee Stewart (the Mysterious Benedict Society series) expertly ratchets up the tension in this wonderful nail-biter of a story, adding danger upon danger as Reuben attempts to outwit The Smoke, put him out of business, and make New Umbra a decent place in which to live again. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In this novel, 11-year-old Reuben Pedley finds an antique pocket watch with a powerful secret.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

September Recommendations

As summer stumbles into fall, what great reads have you discovered?

Here’s what I’ve been enjoying lately:


GREENGLASS HOUSE, by Kate Milford, takes place during twelve-year-old Milo Pine’s winter vacation. Just when he’s looking forward to relaxing with his family (they never have guests the first week of vacation), the doorbell rings. Somehow, on a cold and snowy night, the old smuggler’s hotel fills up with strange guests who tell strange stories about why they’ve arrived. Milo and cook’s daughter Meddy uncover plenty of secrets as they use lessons from an old role-playing game to help investigate a string of robberies and more. This is a top-notch mystery with plenty of atmosphere. Especially perfect for a cold night and a cup of hot chocolate, but worthy of being enjoyed anytime! (MG)

Jennifer Nielsen’s newest novel is a stand-alone, called THE SCOURGE. Like her False Prince trilogy, this one features a troublemaker with a heart of gold. Ani and her best friend Weevil are taken by the governor’s men to be tested for a deadly plague called the Scourge. Though initially Ani tests negative, a second, more radical test indicates that she actually has the disease. She and Weevil, who contends that he has it, too, are sent to the Colony, a place of banishment for all Scourge victims. Ani’s strong sense of justice stirs up more than the governor and her henchmen have bargained for, as she and Weevil do whatever it takes to uncover the truth. Strong characters drive this adventure. (MG)

HOW TO HANG A WITCH, by Adriana Mather, is a contemporary novel of ghosts, witches, and an ancient curse, all of which harken back to the 17th century witch trials in Salem, MA. Like the author, protagonist Samantha is a direct descendant of Cotton Mather, the Puritan minister responsible for the Trials. When her dad slips into a coma, Sam and her stepmother sell their NYC apartment and move to the family home in Salem to save money for medical bills. Sam immediately runs afoul of the Descendants, a group of rich goths whose ancestors were witches actually hanged in the Trials. Throw in a couple of handsome guys, one of whom is a ghost, and you have all the elements of a very engaging story. Good messages about bullying and mob mentality, too. (YA)

Picture Books:

These three especially strong picture books beg to be read aloud, and all for different reasons. Two are by editor-turned-author Richard Jackson (each with a different illustrator), and one is by Nina Laden, not to be confused with a book recently out by Dan Santat of the same name.

The first by Richard Jackson, IN PLAIN SIGHT, is illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney. It’s the heartwarming story of Sophie, who lives with Mama and Daddy and Grandpa, who lives by the window. Every afternoon, Sophie and Grandpa play a game. Sophie finds things her grandpa has lost, things which are hiding in plain sight. The lyrical prose says plenty, but it’s still spare enough to let the wondrous art carry a full share of the story. (Don’t forget to check check endpapers and under the dustcover, too.) This cozy book should end in hugs all around.

A second book by Richard Jackson, HAVE A LOOK, SAYS BOOK, is illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. If I said it was a story about textures, I’d be selling it way short. This one needs to be read aloud for the sheer joy of letting the words roll off your tongue. Hear yourself saying them, then read it to someone else and the experience just gets better. Once again, no wasted words and gorgeous art make this a wonderful example of picture book-making at its very best.

And, finally, ARE WE THERE YET?, by Nina Laden and Adam McCauley, should be read aloud because it’s more fun that way. The text is simple, mostly “Are we there yet?” and the answer, “No.” But the illustrations are jam-packed with details to discover, and they get more outrageous as the story progresses. Sit next to someone as you look for the many recurring elements, and, like the kid on the back endpapers, when you’re done you’ll all want to say, “Let’s do it again!”


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

September's Book of the Month--Waiting

September’s Book of the Month is WAITING, by the legendary Kevin Henkes. He’s previously won a Caldecott Medal, two Newbery Honors, and a Geisel Honor, and WAITING has brought new Caldecott and Geisel Honors. Also not to be overlooked is his supremely popular and beloved Lily (Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse), plus other mice characters which include Owen, Chrysanthemum, and Wemberly, each featured in their own charming picture books. But back to this story . . . .

Five animal toys wait on a window ledge. Mostly, they wait for different things, but one of them (a rabbit with stars) isn’t waiting for anything in particular. He just likes to look out the window and wait. Toys come and go, seasons come and go. Wind, rain, snow, fireworks, and the moon come and go. And still the animals wait on the ledge. One day a cat with patches joins them. What, if anything, is she waiting for?

There’s so much character development here, and so much emotion expressed on these pages. If you have ever wanted to write—and publish—a quiet picture book, WAITING is one you must look at. Read it aloud. Marvel at the uncomplicated yet expressive text and illustrations, the uncluttered page design, the muted color, the incredible production value of this book. Look under the dust jacket and you will find a little surprise on the board covers. The end papers pick up the color of the type. It’s perfect.

Have you read WAITING? What do you think?