CASTLE HANGNAIL by Ursula Vernon: A Recommendation for Tweens

July 23, 2016

Castle-HangnailCastle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Ursula Vernon is the beloved author of some terrific series (like Dragonbreath,and my personal favorite Hamster Princess).  Her latest book features Molly (great name!), a young witch (12 years old) with a list of tasks to perform.  Hmm, sounds all too familiar.  But in the hands of Vernon, it takes on interesting twists and turns, and moral dilemmas.  Molly is the new master of Castle Hangnail, and must perform wicked tasks to keep the castle from being removed.  She wants to be a Wicked Witch, sure. . .but an Evil witch?  Not so much. She also has a lot of grown-up problems, like not being sure she is competent at her job, and being responsible for many others, as well as saving the castle.  It’s a quirky book, with depth and humor, and an engrossing read for tweens and early adolescents. Great illustrations sprinkled throughout the book, too.  And so many more Ursula Vernon books if this one suits you fancy!


THE AGENCY: A SPY IN THE HOUSE by Y.S. Lee: A Series Recommendation for Teens

July 15, 2016

The-AgencyThe Agency:  A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee

A mystery thriller set in Victorian London with a spunky and clever young woman as protagonist?  Yes, please!  The Agency series is a terrific read, recommended for grades 7 and up (including those YA lovers like us at Lit for Kids).  Heroine Mary Quinn is an orphan (and thief, of necessity), who is rescued from the gallows by a dedicated group of women at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, the cover for an all-female investigative unit called the Agency. In the premier book in the series, Mary begins her career as an undercover agent disguised as a lady’s companion.  She carries out her investigation at night and during stolen moments, but soon finds that she is not the only one on the case. Is James Easton a friend or foe?  The book is fast-paced and gripping; I enjoyed the chance to immerse myself in this world.  And the best news is that there are several more books in the series.  I’m on the third, and I’m grateful to see there are at least 2 more to date!  Put this series on your summer reading list!


FIREBIRD by Misty Copeland: A Review and Recommendation

July 9, 2016

FirebirdFirebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers

Misty Copeland dances the title role in Stravinsky’s The Firebird. Copeland uses this work as a theme for a dialogue with a young aspiring ballerina. The words are lyrical and graceful: “I was a dancer just like you,” Misty tells the young girl, “a dreaming shooting star of a girl/with work and worlds ahead.”  Myers’ paint and collage illustrations are simply miraculous:  full-page spreads, with colors to represent both dynamic action and cool serenity.  This book is well-deserving of the many awards this book won, including:

Winner of the 2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award
Received the 2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award New Writer Honor
An NPR Best Book of 2014

Essence Magazine Best Children’s Book of 2014

MistyThe Horn Book writes: “American Ballet Theatre soloist Copeland is just as graceful with words as she is with her body… Myers’s stunning collages layer strips of thickly painted paper to echo the wings of a firebird (Copeland’s signature role), whether they are illustrating the stage curtains or a cloudy sky… This book encourages today’s aspiring dancers of all colors and backgrounds.”

We also recommend dipping into Misty Copeland’s inspiring autobiography: Life in Motion:  An Unlikely Ballerina.


Magic!: A Flight

July 2, 2016

magic-bookWe rediscovered the power and wonder of Magic when our family recently attended a professional magic show.  We experienced sleight of hand, levitation, even sawing a woman in half!  It was more incredible than we remembered, and the young twins were mesmerized.  On our bookshelf, we also are enjoying the read-alouds of magic and wizardry in the Harry Potter series, not to mention Demigods and Magicians, as you’ll recall from our recent post.

So, without further ado, we present to you for your wonder and enjoyment a flight on the delights of magic in all its various forms, for the whole family.  Enjoy!

magic-wandFamily Read Aloud:

EscapeEscape!: The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman

Sid Fleischman is the perfect mentor to introduce you and your family to the amazing story of  Harry Houdini.  As a fellow magician, he savors Houdini’s life and the world of magic.  But don’t expect to learn all the secrets of the trade; Fleischman states upfront that an unspoken covenant among magicians prevents him from revealing Houdini’s secrets.  This doesn’t turn out to be a limitation, as the story is told with Fleischman’s signature narrative skills, fascinating facts, not to mention vocabulary words that will intrigue and delight (prestidigitator, bunkum).  Though written for tweens and early adolescents, this is a perfect family read-aloud to get everyone excited about Houdini-and the world of magic!

AND

Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

HarryIf perhaps you’ve been living in a cave (and not the one where Sirius hid from the Ministry of Magic in The Goblet of Fire) and you haven’t heard of Harry Potter, it’s only the biggest selling book in forever, and has been single-handedly responsible for getting millions of kids interested in reading. That alone is reason to love and respect these books. Add in the fact that Rowling’s boy wizard is a very real and complex (and likable) boy who defeats evil incarnate with more confidence than he can face his first crush, and that the books are staggeringly well-written, and these modern classics have earned their place of honor on every home and classrooms shelf. (Needless to say, these books really need to be read in order, so begin with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.)

Youngest Readers:

MiloMilo’s Hat Trick by Jon Agee

John Agee is one of my favorite authors for the little ones.  And Milo’s Hat Trick is one of his best. Poor Milo is a failure as a magician.  He can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat–in fact, he can’t even find a rabbit.  But he meets a bear who can appear and disappear with astonishing success, all because he believes he can! Milo’s new bear companion is perfectly happy to help him for many performances, but finally needs his sleep.  Milo must accomplish his magic tricks on his own–and he does!  Witty, humorous text and marvelous large and expressive cartoon-like artwork. Another winner for pre-school children.

*

The-Magic-RabbitThe Magic Rabbit by Annette LeBlanc Cate

Another rabbit in the hat magician picture book, but with a difference.  This story of friendship focuses on Ray the magician and his rabbit companion and assistant who perform by day and share an apartment by night, true best friends.  A mis-hap with another street performer causes the two to become separated and the search to be reunited is the true heart of the story.  The illustrations make this a favorite with kids and adults alike:  black and white with occasional gold stars.  A happy ending and the magic of friendship prevails in this sweet and captivating tale.

Tweens:

AddieAnything But Ordinary Addie:  The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

Magicians are not just male, as this true story shows.  Adele Scarsez was an amazing girl who scandalized her friends and family with her dancing, performing, and bicycle riding. But that was only the beginning!  She met–and proposed to the magician Hermann the Great, and they became a team.  At first, she was his assistant, but when he died, she took over his act and became a famous magician in her own right.  Addie decided to learn the bullet-catching trick, a bit of magic so dangerous that magicians had been killed performing it. However, Addie succeeded, and her magic show continued for many years.  The story is fascinating, and the illustrations and overall design of the book, with text in a variety of fonts woven in among the pictures, makes this a visual feast.

*

DorkoDorko the Magnificent by Andrea Beaty

Fifth-grader Dorko is an aspiring magician, who seems to have a talent–for having his tricks go awry.  Luckily, his Grandma Melvyn was once a famous magician, and although she is eccentric and quite cantankerous, she agrees to help him out. He slowly earns Grandma’s approval and, ultimately, her trust and affection. She not only coaches Robbie in showmanship and sleight of hand, but she also guides him down the path to self-confidence and self-discipline. It’s told from Robbie Darko’s (aka Dorko) point of view, and in a very realistic tween voice. Lots of humor, and some touching moments as well.

*

MagicMark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic by Mark Wilson

And if we are reading about the amazing world of Magic, what about learning to perform it?  Author Mark Wilson’s claim to fame is that he is “probably the nation’s leading authority on magic” (according to the New York Times).  It seems he actually has another  reason for his fame: his numerous books, courses, kits, and workshops teaching young magicians the tools of the trade.  One reviewer, a professional magician, simply gushes about this Complete Course in Magic book: “I can say, unequivocally, that this book is easy-to-understand, eminently practical, and immediately enjoyable; the learning factor –even for someone quite skilled– is off the charts! Drawings everywhere! Little tips of patter and misdirection accompany all the sleights, and even self-working tricks are turned into miracles.” Good for teens as well as tweens.  I’m hooked–and eager to start practicing!

Teens:

The Golden Compass Series ( His Dark Materials) by Phillip Pullman

This series belongs alongside Harry Potter and The Hunger Games books as modern classics.  They appeal to all readers, though written for teens.  Exploring themes of religion, friendship, politics, family, the notion of magic and of other worlds, it touches on every major theme that resonates with young teens– or really, with all of us.  The first book begins in another world, similar to, yet wholly unlike, our own.  The orphan (or is she?) Lyra Belaqua, and her animal familiar (daemon, they call them) Pantalaimon are our guides into this world.  The second book continues in our own world with another abandoned youngster, Will.  Their worlds and many others will collide before the adventure is finished.  These phenomenal books hold up to (in fact, they practically demand) several readings.

*

spellcasterSpellcaster by Claudia Gray

This YA novel for older adolescents tales place in a small New England town, where magic has deep roots. Nadia learns this quickly when she moves there because, well, she’s a witch.  But she senses a presence of evil magic at work and soon bands together with new friends Mateo, a tortured boy whose family is cursed with telling the future, and Verlaine, a girl with a mysterious past, to figure out how to stop the magic from destroying their home.  As readers, we are treated to an intriguing blend of the history of witches and witchcraft and a romance of the paranormal kind. The characters are appealing, and the story is full of twists and turns that leave readers looking forward to the next installment.

*

The-Raven-BoysThe Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue is part of a family of psychics–but without having the power herself.  As the book unfolds, we learn that what Blue does have is the ability to magnify the powers of others. She lives in a town with a prestigious and expensive boys’ prep school– Aglionbe Academy–and it is here she meets “the Raven Boys” (as the town’s residents calls the boys.  Her romantic life is complicated by the fact that every psychic she’s ever met predicts that if Blue were to kiss her true love, he would die.  As she gets to know some of the boys, she becomes drawn into their quest to find a kind of magical “ley line.”  A unique supernatural thriller, and the first of a series.

Adult:

The Magicians:  A Novel by Lev Grossman

When you were a kid, did you love escaping into another world–like Narnia, or Earthsea?  If your answer is yes,  this grown-up ( adult themed)  version may be for you.  In tones of Harry Potter,  Quentin is admitted to a secret University for an education in magic:  Brakebills Academy.  There he meets a cohort of young adults who are in college together in a sort of post Hogwarts school, with darker shades of magic.  As children, they had all enjoyed the magical land of Fillory–turns out it’s real and quite a dangerous place when they enter it to make things right.   Though the novel is entertaining on some levels, it’s also a deeply serious book, with complex characters, some fatally flawed.  This book definitely has the feel of a classic in the making. And good news:  2 more books in the series!

~~~~


IF YOU EVER WANT TO BRING A PIANO TO THE BEACH, DON’T by Elise Parsley

June 25, 2016

PianoIf  You Ever Want to Bring a Piano to the Beach, Don’t by Elise Parsley

Toddlers, Early Readers and even Tweens will get a kick out of this picture book and the amazing heroine of the tale, Magnolia. And all ages will delight in her incredible facial expressions and the sly wit in the illustrations in this funny story of what happens when you bring a piano to the beach. (Seriously–amazing little details on each page.) When Magnolia’s mother tells her to bring something with her to the beach, Magnolia’s brilliant idea turns out to be. . .not so much. I especially love the Mom, who does not seem overly distracted by the absurd situation.  A delightful summer read!


Mo Willems’ Latest: Elephant and Piggie: THE THANK YOU BOOK

June 18, 2016

elephant-and-PiggieElephant and Piggie:  The Thank You Book by Mo Willems

Couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book when I heard is was coming out.  And it did not disappoint.  Mo Willems is at the top of his game with this (gasp, sob) last of the Elelphant and Piggie stories.  As always, I love the classic give and take between these two friends, with misunderstandings and reconciliations, facial expressions that are truly expressive, and general sweet humor throughout.  Piggie declares that she is going to thank everyone who has helped her. Gerald worries that she is going to forget someone, but Piggie insists that she will not.  And then Piggie proceeded to thank every secondary character in the entire series. (I dare you not to be moved.) They are all there, and fans of the series will enjoy seeing familiar friends, with sly asides.  For example, when Piggie thanks The Pigeon  for never giving up, she adds, “And I am sorry you do not get to be in our books.”  The Pigeon replies, “That is what you think.”

Gerald continues to worry that Piggie will forget someone- who could she possibly be forgetting to thank? Well, the Readers!  If you are new to the Elephant and Piggie series, this isn’t the best book to start with, since it is a kind of in-joke for fans and it’s more fun to recognize everyone who is thanked.   This summer is a great time to read the whole series, whether it is for the first time or a rereading.  Can’t wait to see what’s around the corner for Mo Willems!


THE TRIALS OF APOLLO by Rick Riordan: A Review and Recommendation

June 11, 2016

ApolloThe Trials of Apollo, Book I:  The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

Apollo is back–but even fans of the The Heroes of Olympus won’t recognize him.  You see, he is being punished by Zeus, and it’s tough to punish an immortal God.  The best way is to make them return to Earth as a human.  That’s right, Apollo has become mortal and must cope with the day-to-day struggles of being a teenager.  Without his powers.  Many of the other Gods, not to mention monsters and mortals, would love to add to the punishment.  The only place he can think of to go is Camp Half-Blood, the modern enclave of Gods and demigods.  We get to catch up with many of the characters from previous books, but the focus is on the young Apollo, and the new demigod Meg.

Apollo is a great character.  He’s amusing –both his attitude and the circumstances he keeps finding himself in. In theme it’s very similar to Marvel’s Thor movie in which a god becomes mortal but takes some time to adjust to his new situation. I enjoyed Apollo’s character development and how he changes throughout the course of the adventure.

More to come in this series.  Summer is a perfect time to get started!

 


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