Thursdays With the Crown by Jessica Day George

To prepare myself for this third book in a series, I first reviewed my review from a couple of years ago of Tuesdays at the Castle. Then, I read Wednesdays in the Tower, for which I received an ARC that I never got around to reading. Then, I was ready for Thursdays With the Crown.

I wouldn’t recommend reading these books out of order or reading just one, unless it’s the first one. Wednesdays in the Tower ends on a cliffhanger, and I’m glad I didn’t read it back when I would have had to wait for the third book. In Wednesdays, Princess Celie imprints or tames or bonds with a baby griffin. It’s sort of like Dragonriders of Pern, except for kids and with griffins. Yes, Celie eventually rides the flying griffin. The entire book is about Celie and the griffin that she names Rufus. At the end of that book, Celie and some of her friends and family are transported to the land where the Castle originated, and from that point on things take a more serious turn as the friends try to find out why the Castle is behaving so oddly and what they can do to fix things there and back in the land of Sleyne.

My favorite part of these two books in the series is not the plot, not the theme of “war is evil and griffins are great”, not even the characters exactly, although I like them all. My favorite part is when Prince Lulath of Grath talks. Lulath is from another country, and he speaks Sleynth only as a second language, rather brokenly. I absolutely love the way he talks. I don’t know if a few examples will give you the idea, and I’m not really supposed to quote from the ARC. Nevertheless, Lulath’s speech is so broken and funny that it can’t be a problem to quote just a little:

“Oh so much fear,” Lulath said. “But then I would look to myself in the mirror and say, Lulath, you silly big man! Here is being two beautiful princesses and a noble prince in so much the danger! Have they food? Have they warmth? You must be putting on your shoes like a very man, and going forth! And so I am!” He nodded firmly. “It is why also I am studying the strategying when I am young. I am having so much fear in the night, I think, I will learn all that is brave and very, and will also go forth with strongness!”

“I thank you, Friend Pogue,” Lulath said cheerfully. “It is because I am looking such a silly man. I am liking the clothes too much, it is a thing that I know. You are not thinking that I am having much brain.”

The stories are fun and a little bit dramatic towards the end, but it was Lulath that kept me reading. I wish I could write him into a play for my children’s drama group to perform. Or I could impersonate him for (next) Halloween, but no one would know who I was imitating. Anyway, Lulath is very being my favorite.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Book News

Texas Bluebonnet Award 2015-2016 Master List
Auxier, Jonathan. 2014. The Night Gardener.
Brown, Don. 2013. The Great American Dust Bowl.
Bryant, Jen. 2014. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
Cammuso, Frank. 2013. The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Book One: Spelling Trouble.
Cavanaugh, Nancy J. 2014. Always, Abigail.
Daly, Cathleen. 2014. Emily’s Blue Period. Illustrated by Lisa Brown.
de los Santos, Marisa and David Teague. 2014. Saving Lucas Biggs.
Eddleman, Peggy. 2013. Sky Jumpers.
Egan, Kate; with Magician Mike Lane. 2014. The Vanishing Coin. Illustrated by Eric Wight.
Ehlert, Lois. 2014. The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life.
Engle, Margarita. 2013. Mountain Dog. Illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov.
Gandhi, Arun and Bethany Hegedus. 2014. Grandfather Gandhi. Illustrated by Evan Turk.
Healy, Christopher. 2012. The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom.
Hill, Laban Carrick. 2013. When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop.
Philbrick, Rodman. 2014. Zane and the Hurricane: A Story of Katrina.
Schanen, Adriana Brad. 2014. Quinny & Hopper. Illustrated by Greg Swearingen.
Searles, Rachel. 2014. The Lost Planet.
Singer, Marilyn. 2013. Rutherford B., Who Was He?: Poems About Our Presidents. Illustrated by John Hendrix.
Tonatiuh, Duncan. 2014. Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation.
Turnage, Sheila. 2014. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing.
I’ve read and reviewed six out of twenty of these nominated books, and I’d like to take a look at the rest. Links are to Semicolon reviews.


Publisher’s Weekly: Best Middle Grade Books of 2014. I’ve read and reviewed five of the fourteen books on this list, and I need to read at least two more for Cybils. I’ll just say that it’s not my list, but it’s not too bad either.

Oliver and the Seawigs: Not-So-Impossible Tale by Philip Reeve

An army of sea monkeys. A boy villain named Stacey de Lacey. A nearsighted mermaid. Rambling Isles that walk/swim around the ocean. Sarcastic seaweed. A talking albatross named Mr. Culpepper. And a beach optician. Not in that order.

The author of this stew of ridiculous is the same Phillip Reeve who wrote a dark Arthurian saga called Here Lies Arthur and won the Carnegie Medal for it in 2008. Oliver and the Seawigs is not dark, not Arthurian, and not a saga—and contrary to the series title (yes, there’s a series of at least two books so far), not very possible. But then again, who cares about possible when you’re reading something that reads as if it were an exercise in six impossible things before breakfast?

Ten year old Oliver Crisp is the son of explorers who met on the top of Mount Everest. They’re finally ready to settle down in a house by the sea, having explored all there is to explore, but when they arrive at their house of dreams (for Oliver who’s tired of exploring), there are some new islands in Deepwater Bay just off the coast. Oliver’s parents are compelled by their exploring nature to go explore, but then it’s Oliver who must rescue them when they don’t return in time for supper.

Only 193 pages with lots of pictures, this rollicking adventure would be just the thing to suggest to the third or fourth grader with a silly sense of humor (or one who needs some silly in his life). The next book in the series, Cakes in Space, features Astra and some scary-looking cakes. In a spaceship.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Empire of Bones by N.D. Wilson

About the first book in this fantasy series by N.D. Wilson, I wrote: The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson. Too much action and it moved way too fast for me. I think there was a sub-text that I just didn’t get, and I think Mr. Wilson is too smart for my Very Little Brain.

About the second book, The Drowned Vault, I wrote: I really should just wait until all of the (three?) books in the Ashtown Burials series are out and then I could read them all together. I’m pretty sure my little brain would thank me.

I should have taken my own advice. There are just too many characters and too much history and too much stuff for me to follow the story and really get it. And this book doesn’t provide a satisfying ending to the entire story, so I’m fairly sure there are more books in this series to come. I really, really need to quit now and come back when the series is complete. (Or maybe it is complete? If so, I really don’t get it.)

If you would like to read more about Empire of Bones, from the point of view of someone who read it, understood it, and loved it, here’s one glowing review at Pages Unbound.

I want to love these books, but I still like N.D. Wilson’s first book for children, Leepike Ridge, the best. It was just right for my Baby Bear/Goldilocks brain.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

I think Kathy Appelt is a polarizing author; you either love her style of storytelling or you really find it annoying. I love it.

I thought her tale of hound dog and kittens in the Big Thicket of East Texas, The Underneath, was excellent storytelling, and it should have won the Newbery in 2009 instead of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which I didn’t like at all. As for last year’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp—it should have won something because it’s just as delicious (cane sugar fried pies) and delightful (raccoon scouts who live inside an old rusted De Soto) as The Underneath was.

Again, as in The Underneath, Ms. Appelt’s style takes some getting used to. The chapters, or scenes, are very short, two to four pages each, and the focus and point of view are constantly switching form one set of characters and one plot strand to another. But at the end everything converges in the East Texas swampland that made the setting of The Underneath so memorable.

If the setting is the same, True Blue Scouts has all new characters: Bingo and J’miah, Official Sugar Man Swamp Scouts; twelve year old Chapparal Brayburn who has just become the man of the house after the death of his beloved grandfather; Jaeger Stitch, World Champion Gator Wrestler of the Northern Hemisphere; Sonny Boy Beaucoup, current owner of the Sugar Man Swamp, Buzzie and Clydine, leaders of the Farrow Gang of feral hogs; and of course, the Sugar Man himself, “taller than his cousin Sasquatch, taller than Barmanou, way taller than the Yeti. His arms were like the cedar trees that were taking root all around, tough and sinuous. His hands were as wide and big as palmetto ferns. His hair looked just like the Spanish moss that hung on the north side of the cypress trees, and the rest of his body was covered in rough black fur . . . You could say that he was made up of bits and pieces of every living creature in the swamp, every duck, fx lizard, and catfish, every pitcher plant, muskrat, and termite.”

And the plot is complicated by a white “Lord God bird” that may or may not be mythical, a 1949 De Soto lost in the swamp, the delicious-ness of Brayburn fried pies, sugar cane guarded by a whole nest of canebrake rattlers, and the rapacious greed of Jaeger Stitch and Sonny Boy Beaucoup. If you liked The Underneath, The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is a must read. If you disliked the animal abuse that was part of the story in The Underneath, then be assured that no animals (except maybe alligators and even the alligators survive) are harmed in the reading of this book. Some readers might be offended by the way that Appelt uses “Lord God” as a sort of exclamation in a couple of places as well as being the name of the bird, but I thought it was a sort of prayer or invocation of the blessing of God himself. Plus, if you were to read this book aloud, as it begs to be shared, you could leave those references out.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp was a National Book Award finalist, but why Kathy Appelt keeps being honored and runner-upped instead of taking the prize, I don’t know. Maybe it’s that polarizing thing I mentioned. At any rate, award or no, you will enjoy True Blue Scouts. No question about it. Unless you’re at the opposite pole.

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

Placing an autistic or Asperger’s boy in the middle of a fantasy novel is a great idea. Although Oscar is never labeled, it’s clear that his love for, almost obsession with, plants and herbal remedies and his lack of understanding of people place him somewhere on the autism spectrum. He sometimes wonders whether he’s really human. Maybe he’s made of wood (something like Pinocchio). But, of course, by the end of the book Oscar finds out that he is a real boy.

I wanted to like this story of a magician’s apprentice (or “hand”) as much as I liked the author’s earlier middle grade fantasy, Breadcrumbs. But something about this one felt forced. The plot sort of meandered along and never really held together tightly. I liked Oscar as a character, and his friend Callie was a good foil and helper to Oscar. All of the other characters in the village and in the city on the mountain sort blurred together and never really became vivid in my mind. The point or theme of the story was never really clear to me either.

Maybe you should just try another review of The Real Boy, from someone who actually liked it. This story just didn’t grab me.

Sonderbooks: “I’m not sure I was satisfied with the ending — not sure I understood clearly enough what had actually happened. But the book itself, the world, and especially Oscar, were delightful to spend time with.”

Rhapsody in Books: “By the time I got to page 15, I had a problem. I knew I was so hopelessly in love with this book that I couldn’t bear to read any more, because then it would be over, but I also couldn’t bear to stop reading, because I wanted to be immersed in this magical world created by Ursu!”

The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia: “. . . the prose was quiet without being boring, and encompassed Oscar’s narrow world and its truths while also describing the confusing complexity of humanity. And let’s not forget Erin McGuire’s illustrations! She made Oscar’s experiences come to life.”

So, the moral of my review is : when in doubt, let other book bloggers do the heavy lifting for you.

The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

Carolyn Haywood, ushered into the twenty-first century, gently. There were one or two annoying little references that I am not going to dwell on, but overall Mr. Henkes has written a story about second grader Billy Miller that reminds me of my beloved Carolyn Haywood books about Betsy and Eddie and Billy and Ellen. So I can skip the very brief annoyances.

Billy is worried about second grade. He’s afraid he isn’t smart enough for second grade. Ms. Silver, his teacher, assures him that he is smart. Billy then feels “as if he were filled with helium and might rise up like a balloon . . . [H]is mind was sending off sparks.”

Billy’s three year old sister, Sal, is sometimes a nuisance and sometimes an ally. When the two of them try to stay up all night long together, they, of course, don’t make it. But they do bond as siblings.

Billy’s papa is an artist. He’s “waiting for his breakthrough, waiting for things to click.” In the meantime, he makes art out of found objects. And he takes care of Billy and Sal at home while Billy’s mama teaches English at the high school. Billy’s mama is loving and kind. She likes chocolate and rainy days and coffee and quiet. Billy writes a poem about his mom for a school assignment.

Some people at Goodreads and Amazon complained that this book was boring. But I thought it was lovely, with just the right amount of action and second grade angst. If your children haven’t had an overdose of video games and TV and other technology at the ripe young age of seven or eight, The Year of Billy Miller may suit them just fine.

QOTD: What teacher have you had who encouraged you and made your mind send off sparks?

Hideout by Gordon Korman

“Adults have never stopped us before . . . All they are is bigger than us. That doesn’t mean much when you’ve got the right plan.”

Hideout is the fifth book in Gordon Korman’s “Man with the Plan” series about Griffin Bing and his five friends who solve mysteries, foil crooks, and have adventures while each using his or her special talents(s) to implement the Plan.

Griffin Bing is The Man With The Plan, the master planner for the group.
Savannah Drysdale has a special affinity for animals. She’s a dog-whisperer, especially for Luthor, her over-sized and ferocious-to-everyone-else Doberman.
Ben Slovak, Griffin’s best friend, has narcolepsy and a pet ferret, maybe not so much skills as idiosyncrasies. However, Ferret Face turns out to be a secret weapon in times of crisis.
Logan Kellerman is a consummate actor. Call on him to play a part, and he’s there.
Antonia “Pitch” Benson, the climber, can scale any cliff, climb any mountain, and ascend just about any house or tall building.
Melissa Dukakis has the tech skills. She’s a computer whiz and sometimes hacker.

Hideout has the six friends off to summer camp while the evil S. Wendell Palomino is busy stealing, or dog-napping, Savannah’s best friend, Luthor. Can they come up with a plan to save Luthor while keeping the camp authorities in the dark about the presence of a hundred and fifty pound Doberman in camp?

Griffin Bing: “Nothing is impossible if you have the right plan.”

I liked the way the kids banded together to work the plan and save Luthor. There is some law-breaking, lying, and disobedience involved, however, and the kids never do really reap any consequences for their ill-advised and sometimes illegal actions. It makes for a good story, but I have some qualms about children who read these books and take Griffin and his friends for role models. At least, the kids are adventurous and feisty. Maybe a dose of that intrepid spirit in our over-protected children’s reading wouldn’t be a bad thing. After all, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn couldn’t be said to be anywhere near law-abiding, either.

QOTD: The kids in this story aren’t superheroes, but each one does have a special skill or ability. What is your special gift or ability? What ability or interest or expertise do you add to any team or a group that you join?

When Did You See Her Last? by Lemony Snicket

When did you see her last? Did you get the message? What’s for breakfast? Who has the formula? Where could she have gone? Where is Cleo Knight? When did she go missing? What was she wearing when she left? How about some tea? Do you know the one about the big fight over an apple and a pretty woman? The one that ends with a hollow statue and a ghost who likes to bury things?

These are all questions from Lemony Snicket’s second book in the new series All the Wrong Questions. Some of the above questions are nearly right, but they’re all the wrong questions. In When Did You See Her Last? from the rapidly deteriorating town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea, Lemony himself narrates his adventures as an apprentice detective to the inept S. Theodora Markson. The case is the disappearance of the wealthy young chemist, Cleo Knight. Lemony is a rather melancholy young man of mystery in this noir detective story for middle grade readers.

Fans of the wildly popular A Series of Unfortunate Events will applaud this new series by the same author, Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler). And since in this particular series Mr. Snicket gets to be both author and character, we are treated to more insight into the narrator’s life and circumstances, even though Lemony Snicket remains somewhat of an enigma. Something is going on with his sister in another town in an underground tunnel? And in the first book in the series (which I haven’t read) Mr. Snicket and his associates find and lose a statue in the shape of the Bombinating Beast? It’s all slightly esoteric, but still loads of fun, especially the wordplay, literary allusions, and droll humor.

In addition to questions, there are also answers, or at least aphorisms. Try some of these on for size:

“Anyone who gives you a cinnamon roll fresh from the oven is a friend for life.”

“Boredom is not black licorice. . . . There’s no reason to share it.”

“Do the scary thing first, and get scared later.”

“The world is a puzzle, and we cannot solve it alone.”

“They can teach you anything. That doesn’t mean you learn it. It doesn’t mean you believe it.”

“It doesn’t matter if you look ridiculous, not if you are with people you know and trust.”

You’ll have to make up your own questions. Maybe they will be the right questions. Maybe not. But if you enjoy slightly nonsensical, noirish adventures in which the main point and backstory of the series is Yet To Be Revealed, you might want to check out Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions. I’d suggest, unlike me, that you start with the first book in the series, Who Could That Be at This Hour?, proceed immediately to the second, and then to the third in the series, Shouldn’t You Be In School?

From Amazon (in case you are not familiar with the author’s rather wacky style): “Author Lemony Snicket is a broken man, wracked with misery and despair as a result of writing ‘A Series Of Unfortunate Events’. He spends his days wandering the countryside weeping and moaning and his evenings eating hastily-prepared meals. He has also written the mystery series ‘All the Wrong Questions’. Artist Seth is no stranger to a town that is fading. He is a multi-award-winning cartoonist, author, and artist, whose works include’ Palookaville’, ‘Clyde Fan’s, and ‘The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists’. He lives in Guelph, Canada.”

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

“The young couple found the child asleep in an old cushioned chair on the front porch.”

When John and Mary find a six year old boy asleep on their front porch, they are naturally curious to know who he is and where he came from. But the boy doesn’t talk. He does hear, and he draws and paints beautiful pictures, and he plays wonderful music. But he says not one word.

The Boy on the Porch is an odd sort of book. I can see it being the kind of book that an adopted child or a foster child might latch onto and love. Newbery Medal and Carnegie award winning author Sharon Creech (she’s the first author to win both the British and the American awards for children’s literature) writes of her inspiration for the novel:

“I discovered that the boy, who does not speak, is like all characters that do not have a voice until a writer is ready to listen to them; and he is like so many children who do not have a ‘voice’ in this world; and he is like all children who come into our lives: when they arrive—at any age—we wonder who they are and what they think and fear and feel and who they will become.”

So the theme is children without voices, both literally and metaphorically, and the adults who love those children who in turn need someone to see and hear their unique beauty. John and Mary are the stand-ins for all of the many, many adults who foster and adopt and care for children who are abandoned and in need of a caring family. The style is almost hypnotic: you can read or listen to a sample here. It’s a short book, 151 pages. It’s not a verse novel, but it almost has a poetic feel to it. It’s also not fantasy, but the boy who is found on the porch, Jacob, is a fantastic magical realism kind of character. He paints and makes music with abilities way beyond his years, but he never speaks and later in the book, he simply disappears.

This book tells a story that would be just right matched with just the right reader(s). However, they’re probably going to have to find it serendipitously because it’s going to be a hard one to sell—or to peg the right child to sell it to.