Shelli reviews this medieval fantasy, in which a girl learns to channel her inner heroine.
Looking for something action-packed? Dive into these books that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The future Black Panther gets an early start on being a superhero when he's sent to middle school in the city of Chicago. A fun, fast-paced middle grades novel that will get you ready for the upcoming movie.
It's all about adventure in these new books, whether you're visiting a fantasy world where one brave guild stands between a city and disaster or meeting a tween determined to start her own restaurant.
Epic adventure awaits in these fabulously constructed fantasy worlds.
When a deadly fog envelopes the Earth, people take to the skies, where a ragtag bunch of scavengers is ready to risk everything for a better life. First in a series. (Middle grades)
Jaxter Grimjinx was born to be a master thief—but it turns out that with disaster bearing down on his world, he may need to become a hero instead. (Middle grades)
Moril’s witnessed his father’s murder and his brother’s imprisonment, but that’s just the beginning of his problems. First in a quartet. (Middle grades)
Russian spies, magical potions, and a mysterious book star in an adventure that begins in 1950s California. First in a series. (Middle grades)
Nix’s pirate father can sail his ship to any place, real or imagined, as long as he has a map. But the place he’s most determined to go may spell doom for his daughter. (Young adult)
Bradley reimagines the Arthurian legends from a feminist, pagan perspective in this dense volume told mostly from the perspective of the traditionally vilified Morgan le Fay. (Young adult)
Though it’s often recommended for middle grades, I think this subversive retelling of Paradise Lost is more likely to appeal to teens. (Young adult)
Another London—filled with magic and intrigue—exists parallel to the city Richard Mayhew knows—and Mayhew is about to slip through one of the cracks between worlds. (Young adult)
Spectacular world-building lights up this fantasy about a world where humans and intelligent dragons live in an uneasy truce. (Young adult)
When Owen finds out his friend Bethany is half-fictional, he can’t wait to join her next jump into his favorite books—but fictional adventure proves more hazardous than he’s anticipated. (Middle grades)
Witnessing a murder wins Oscar a seat on a magical train that travels through time and space. (Middle grades)
Addie’s always been happy in the shadow of her adventurous sister Meryl, but when Meryl catches the Gray Death, Addie must summon her own courage and set out alone to save her sister. (Middle grades
This list is reprinted from the summer 2016 issue of HSL.
In brief: Thanks to a not-fact-checking-savvy bard, Liam, Frederick, Duncan, and Gustave get written off as interchangeable Princes Charming in the stories of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel. But when these four princes find that “happily ever after” means getting kicked out of their castles by their respective damsels in distress, they team up to stop a nefarious plot that threatens their kingdoms—and to become the heroes they know they were meant to be.
What makes it a great readaloud? This book is SO funny that we frequently dissolved into giggles while reading it. The set-up is great: It manages to address the problem of generic “princes Charming” without sacrificing strong female characters, and it puts a new spin on several classic fairy tales.
But be aware: It definitely gets silly in places, which may annoy kids who don’t like that.
Quotable: “Duncan, what are you?”
“Human!” Duncan cried, trembling with excitement.
“More specific,” Liam said, still dramatically.
“A five-foot-two human!”
“I'm going for hero here," Liam hinted under his breath.”
Take an English pirate’s daughter, a natural philosopher’s son, and a 12-year old captain of the U.S. navy, drop them into the middle of the War of 1812, and throw in a mysterious machine with the power to end all wars—if only they can sort out the cryptic clues—and you’ve got The Left-Handed Fate, Kate Milford’s new middle grades adventure story.
Lucy’s promised to help Max Ault complete his late father’s mission to solve an ancient puzzle and build the ultimate war machine. She’s not expecting it to be easy—she is a privateer’s daughter, after all—but she’s definitely not prepared for how complicated it gets when the newly minted United States declares war on Britain, mysterious figures in black start following them everywhere, French diplomats start showing their nasty side, and her beloved ship gets captured by a U.S. ship helmed by 12-year-old Oliver Dexter. Together with Lucy’s half-brother Liao (possibly my favorite character in a novel full of nuanced, favorite-able characters), they form an unlikely team with a nearly impossible mission full of action, danger, and a surprising number of explosions. If you loved the dreamy, slow-building pace of Milford’s The Greenglass House, you may be surprised by how fast-paced and action-packed The Left-Handed Fate is. (Both books do take place in the imaginary town of Nagspeake, though The Greenglass House is set two centuries after the events of the The Left-Handed Fate take place.)
The Left-Handed Fate has the deliberate old-fashioned spirit, clever children on a mission, and twisty brainteaser to solve that made The Mysterious Benedict Society such a favorite, and it’s a worthy follow-up to your Trenton Lee Stewart read-a-thon. As with the Benedict Society, the characters are the best part of this story: bold, honor-driven Kate, stalwart midshipman Oliver, brilliant Max, and dreamy, clever Liao. It would be worth reading The Left-Handed Fate just to meet them.
Take one boy without a name who may or may not be a slave. Add a girl named Alice who wants to be a sage but can’t seem to break into the smart boys’ club and a girl named Alice who happens to be a princess. Mix in a goblin with fondness for puzzles, a mind-controlled dragon who does his hunting by name, and a nefarious Duke scheming to overthrow a kingdom, and you’ve got all the ingredients for The Goblin’s Puzzle, a really clever middle grades fantasy that raises questions about slavery and women’s rights, absolute versus relative truth, heroism, and more.
The book starts with the boy, a slave without a name, who—through a series of unfortunate events—finds himself in possession of an-almost-all-knowing-but-certainly-not-telling goblin and in pursuit of Just Alice, who’s been captured by a dragon who’s confused her with the princess because they have the same name. But rescuing Just Alice—who desperately wants the chance to prove that she’s as wise as any sage her age—is just the beginning of the boy’s adventures, which take him across a kingdom on the brink of war and which, the goblin implies, will lead him to the truth of his origins and the discovery that he is not really a slave after all.
This book has a Roald Dahl/Lemony Snicket irreverence and a twisty-turny plot that make it perfect for a readaloud. (I also kept finding parallels to The Horse and His Boy, though the books are completely different.) I could quibble that Princess Alice deserves a more nuanced character development (she does) and that the villainous duke is a bit two-dimensional (he is), but these are small issues in an otherwise excellent book. Add this one to your library list.
Age Range: Middle grades (but may be too much for some sensitive kids — read on)
My eight-year-old and I just finished reading The High-Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash, and we had swashbuckling good time. It’s an exciting pirate story, but in this world, the pirates are all birds, and their ship, the Grosbeak, sails in the air. Blue Jay the Pirate has a reputation as a fearful pirate that you better not mess with, but his crew knows him better than that, and because of his good leadership skills, they remain loyal to him.
Blue Jay loves to collect treasure, and some of his most prized possessions are eggs. Unfortunately, sometimes they hatch, but they never had too much problem with that until now, when they find themselves raising a young gosling that will soon get bigger than their entire ship! In the end, however, the gosling, crew, an unlikely mole, and a whole community of thrushes work together to overthrow Blue Jay’s bully cousin and his followers, the crows.
The characters are likable, it’s well written, and beautiful illustrations by Scott Nash are placed throughout the story and make this book a pleasure to behold as well as read. However, there are some things that parents should consider before buying it for their children.
There is violence in the book. Although you are reading about birds, the actions, emotions and stories of these characters are very human, and I found it to be more realistic in this regard. I was taken aback when a young, lovable character is killed in the second chapter only because I knew the book is recommended for middle grades, and I was not expecting that. There is violence later in the book when the pirates and thrushes fight the crows as well. This book may not be the best pick for sensitive readers.
It also uses a high vocabulary, which I thought was a positive thing because it made my son want to use his dictionary.
Aside from these points to consider, we found the story to be fun and engaging, and it was perfect for my son who likes adventure and birds. (We were often referring to our bird app to look up photos of the real birds the characters were based on.) We also had fun learning and imagining what life is like for a mole, which in real life is quite unassuming and lives underground, but in this story becomes quite the hero.