Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley

Gertie deserves a place alongside Clementine and Ramona Quimby as one of the spunkiest and most adventuresome of girl characters in middle grade fiction. She comes across as a little immature for her ten years of age, but if she’s a bit sheltered and innocent, it just means that her aunt and her father have done an excellent job of raising her after her mother deserted the family.

Gertie Reece Foy is always on a mission, but her mission for fifth grade is to be the greatest fifth grader ever so that her mother, whom Gertie has never even met, will be impressed and wish that she had paid more attention to Gertie Foy. Gertie’s two best friends, Jean the Jean-ius and Junior, help, mostly, and hinder her on her mission. And Mary Sue Spivey, the new girl from Los Angeles, is the fly in the ointment, so to speak. Can Gertie be the best when Mary Sue so easily steals the popularity (not to mention Gertie’s seat!) that Gertie longs for?

One thing about Gertie Reece Foy: she never, ever gives up. And reading about exactly how Gertie doesn’t give up, how she keeps pursuing her mission, despite environmental concerns about her daddy’s oil rig job and Mary Sue’s conniving, is a delight and a wonder. Gertie certainly does “give’em h—“, just as her great-aunt tells her to every morning as Gertie leaves for school.

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12 Children’s Books of 2017 That I Want to Read

Descriptions are from Goodreads.

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. “About nine children who live on a mysterious island. On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.” (May)

The Problem Children by Natalie Lloyd. “Seven strange siblings, all born on a different day of the week, and the neighbors who keep trying to tear their family apart.”

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart. “Jonathan Grisby is the newest arrival at the Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys — an ancient, crumbling fortress of gray stone rising up from the ocean. It is dark, damp, and dismal. And it is just the place Jonathan figures he deserves. Because Jonathan has done something terrible. And he’s willing to accept whatever punishment he has coming.” (January)

Playing Atari with Saddam Hussein by Jennifer Roy. “Set in the spice-filled markets and curtain-drawn homes of 1991 Iraq and told through the eyes of 12-year-old Ali, a boy preoccupied by real-life dictators and video game villains, this book offers a glimpse into the everyday realities of growing up under the shadow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.” (Spring)

The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli. “Cammie O’Reilly is the warden’s daughter, living in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Prison. But she’s also living in a prison of grief and anger about the mother who died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. And prison has made her mad.” (January)

Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberley Willis Holt. “Twelve-year-old Stevie’s world changes drastically when her parents are tragically killed and she is forced to live with her estranged grandfather at his run-down motel.” (March)

The Great Treehouse War by Lisa Graff. “Winnie’s last day of fourth grade ended with a pretty life-changing surprise. That was the day Winnie s parents got divorced, the day they decided that Winnie would live three days a week with each of them and spend Wednesdays by herself in a treehouse smack between their houses, to divide her time perfectly evenly between them. It was the day Winnie s seed of frustration with her parents was planted, a seed that grew and grew until it felt like it was as big as a tree itself.” (May)

The Song of Glory and Ghost (Outlaws of Time #2) by N.D. Wilson. (April)

Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai. “13-year-old Nadia and her family flee Aleppo, Syria, for Turkey in the wake of the Arab Spring.” (Fall)

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin. (January)

The Sweetest Sound by Sherri Winston. “For ten-year-old Cadence Jolly, birthdays are a constant reminder of all that has changed since her mother skipped town with dreams of becoming a star. Cadence inherited that musical soul, she can’t deny it, but otherwise she couldn’t be more different – she’s as shy as can be. When Cadence’s singing ability comes to the attention of her entire church family, she must decide what to do.” (January)

The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla. “Life has been unraveling since Charlie’s war journalist father was injured in Afghanistan. And when Dad gets sent across country for medical treatment, Charlie must reluctantly travel to meet him. With his boy-crazy sister, unruly twin brothers, and a mysterious new family friend at the wheel, the journey looks anything but smooth.” (January)

Each of these sounds intriguing in its own way: an island, community-building, road trip, Middle Eastern settings, a church community(!), and nonfiction about a sports hero who was also Native American. Do any of these upcoming middle grade titles sound good to you?

Magical Fantastical Animals 2016

Not imaginary creatures like mandrakes (Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard) or jinn (The Eye of Midnight) or chamelons (The Secrets of Solace), but rather animals that talk or communicate with humans or take on anthropomorphic characteristics:

Bats
Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park.
Shadow Magic by Joshua Khan.

Foxes
Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi.
The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker.

Hamsters
Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic by Ursula Vernon.
Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford.

Squirrels
The Tale of a No-Name Squirrel by Radhika Dhariwal.
The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket Squirrel by Susan Hill Long.
Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines by Charlotte Bennardo.

Rats and Mice
Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlman.
Word of Mouse by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.
Brightwood by Tania Unsworth.
The Rat Prince by Bridget Hodder.
A Tail of Camelot (Mice of the Round Table #1) by Julie Leung.

Dogs:
The Poet’s Dog by Patricia MacLachlan.
Foxheart by Claire LeGrand.
Making Mistakes on Purpose (Ms. Rapscott’s Girls) by Elise Primavera.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz.
Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance.
The Wizard’s Dog by Eric Gale.

Tigers:
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.

Cats
Fortune Falls by Jenny Goebel.
The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Colin Busby.

Wolves
Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.
This Is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans.
The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart by Lauren DeStefano.
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimee Carter.
The Wolf’s Boy by Susan Beckhorn.

Rabbits
Ember Falls by S.D. Smith.

Sharks
Stingray City by Ellen Prager.

Pigs
Liberty by Darcy Pattison.

Bears
The Growly Books: Haven by Philip Ulrich.

Hyenas
The Bolds by Julian Clary.

Skunks
The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez by Robin Yardi.

Snakes and Other Reptiles
Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson.
Dragonbreath: the Frozen Menace by Ursula Vernon.

Dogs win, with wolves, and rats and mice coming in a tied second. If you or your child have your own animal avatar or interest, you just might be able to pick a recent book related to the animal of your choice.

Timeline of Middle Grade Fiction 2016

1242: The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz. travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children: Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions, William, an oblate who is half-Saracen and half French, and Jacob, a Jewish boy with a gift for healing. These children may be saints, or they may be using evil magic to do wonders that will deceive the faithful. And the dog, Gwenforte, who once saved a child from a deadly serpent, may be resurrected, but can a dog really be a saint?

1606: Caravaggio: Signed in Blood by Mark Smith. For fifteen-year-old Beppo Ghirlandi, an indentured servant accused of murder, there is no one to turn to. The only person who will help him is the painter from across the piazza, the madman genius known as Caravaggio—-who, unfortunately, has serious troubles of his own.

1781: Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson. The third book in the Seeds of America Trilogy chronicles the adventures of Isabel and Curzon after the winter at Valley Forge.

*1812: The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford. Lucy Bluecrowne and Maxwell Ault must find the three pieces of a strange and arcane engine they believe can stop the endless war raging between their home country of England and Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. But they are in America, where the Americans have just declared war on the British, and the engine is a prize that all three countries will fight to own.

1816: Secrets of the Dragon Tomb by Patrick Samphire. In this steampunk alternate history sci-fi novel, the evil Sir Titus takes Edward’s parents hostage to help him find a lost dragon tomb—on Mars. The political situation in the background of the story involves the British Empire on Earth as they fight the Napoleonic Wars.

1825: A Buss From Lafayette by Dorothea Jensen. Clara’s town is excited because the famous Revolutionary War hero, General Lafayette, is about to visit their state during his farewell tour of America.

1840-1877: In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by Joseph Marshall. Jimmy McClean learns about his Lakota heritage from his grandfather and from stories about the hero Tasunke Witko, better known as Crazy Horse.

*1847: The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby. Jacob Tibbs, ship’s cat, chronicles the sometimes sad, sometimes exciting, adventures of the sailors aboard the Melissa Rae.

1866: Makoons by Louise Erdrich. Makoons, an Ojibwe boy, and his twin, Chickadee, travel with their family to the Great Plains of Dakota Territory. There they must learn to become buffalo hunters and once again help their people make a home in a new land.

c.1870: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge. . Faith Sunderly is a proper Victorian young lady who has always been told, and who believes, that she is inferior in every way to men. Her father, the Reverend Sunderly is not only a cleric but also a world famous paleontologist. Faith, too is interested in science and in anything that will impress her father and get him to pay attention to her, but when she begins to learn more about her father’s research, she also finds herself enmeshed in a web of lies and deceit that won’t let go.

1871: Cinnamon Moon by Tess Hilmo. Three children displaced by fires (The Great Chicago Fire and another in Wisconsin on the same day) must find a way to survive and thrive.

*1887: A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket by Deborah Hopkinson. Eleven year old Rocco must survive on the streets of New York City after his Italian parents sell him to a padrone who uses him to make money as a street musician.

1892: The Crimson Skew by S.E. Grove. Third book in the Mapmakers trilogy. Sophia Tims is coming home from a foreign Age, having risked her life in search of her missing parents. Now she is aboard ship, with a hard-earned, cryptic map that may help her find them at long last.

*1909: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth by Katharine Woodfine. Mysteries abound in an early twentieth century London department store.

1910: Race to the South Pole by Kate Messner. Ranger of Time series. A time-traveling dog, Ranger, helps out during Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition to Antarctica.

1920’s: Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey. 10 year old Isabel is obsessed with becoming a news reporter in 1920’s Chicago, where gangsters rule and the Tribune is the paper of record.

1929: The Eye of Midnight by Andrew Brumbach. On a stormy May day William and Maxine, cousins who hardly know each other, meet at the home of their mutual grandfather, Colonel Battersea. Soon after their arrival, Grandpa receives a secret telegram which takes the three of them to New York City. From there, the story rapidly becomes more and more frenzied, dangerous, and desperate as the children try to rescue Grandpa, find a lost package, decide whether or not to trust the courier, a girl named Nura, and work out their own new-found friendship.

1929: The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. Twelve-year-old Martha works as a maid in the New York City mansion of the wealthy Sewell family. The other servants say Rose Sewell is crazy, but Martha believes that the paintings in the Sewell’s gallery contain a hidden message about Rose and about the other secrets in the Sewell mansion.

1934: Sweet Home Alaska by Carole Estby Dagg. Terpsichore’s father signs up for President Roosevelt’s Palmer Colony project, uprooting the family from Wisconsin to become pioneers in Alaska.

1939: You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carol Boston Weatherford. Verse novel about the struggles and achievements of the Tuskegee Airmen, an all-black air training program during World War II.

1940: Once Was a Time by Leila Sales. Time travel isn’t possible, is it? Or can time travel be the secret weapon that will allow the Allies to win World War II? And can friendship last over time when one friend gets displaced and can’t return to her own time?

1940’s: Projekt 1065: A Novel of World War II by Alan Gratz. 13-year-old Irish boy, Michael O’Shaunessey, becomes a spy in Nazi Germany.

1940’s: The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepard. Winged horses live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. But only Emmaline can see them.

1940’s: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox. During the Blitz, Katherine, Robbie and Amelie Bateson are sent north to a private school in Rookskill Castle in Scotland, a brooding place, haunted by dark magic from the past. But when some of their classmates disappear, Katherine has to find out what has happened to them.

1941: Bjorn’s Gift by Sandy Brehl. Sequel to Odin’s Promise by the same author. Mari, a young Norwegian girl, faces growing hardships and dangers in her small village in a western fjord during World War II.

1941: Aim by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. Fourteen-year-old Junior Bledsoe struggles with school and with anger—-at his father, his insufferable granddaddy, his neighbors, and himself—-as he desperately tries to understand himself and find his own aim in life.

*1942: Skating With the Statue of Liberty by Susan Lynn Meyer. Gustave, a twelve-year-old French Jewish boy, has made it to America at last. After escaping with his family from Nazi-occupied France, he no longer has to worry about being captured by the Germans. But life is not easy in America, either.

1942: Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk. Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Then, new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks.

1942: Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban. Ten year old Manami, a Japanese American girl sent to an internment camp with her family, clings to the hope that somehow grandfather’s dog, Yujiin, will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again.

1942: The Bicycle Spy by Yona Zeldis McDonough. Marcel, a French boy, dreams of someday competing in the Tour de France, the greatest bicycle race. But ever since Germany’s occupation of France began the race has been canceled. Now there are soldiers everywhere, and Marcel bicycle may be useful for more important things than winning a race.

1942: Brave Like My Brother by Marc Nobleman. An American soldier in WWII England shares his war experiences with his 10-year-old brother via letters.

1952: Making Friends With Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood. Azalea Ann Morgan leaves her home in Tyler Texas to stay with her injured Grandma and help out for the summer. Although Azalea has difficulty making new friends, she and Billy Wong have adventures together in the small town in Arkansas where Azalea’s grandma lives.

1969: Ruby Lee and Me by Shannon Hitchcock. A North Carolina town hires its first African-American teacher in 1969, and two girls–one black, one white–confront the prejudice that challenges their friendship.

1973: Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Ben Hogan Putter just lost his dad to cancer. Now Ben has a permanent lump in his throat that he believes is an actual golf ball, and his barbecue-loving, golf-loving daddy is speaking to him from beyond the grave, asking Ben to take his ashes to Augusta, Georgia, home of the most famous golf course in the world.

1975: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo. If Raymie Clarke can just win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, then her father, who left town two days ago with a dental hygienist, will see Raymie’s picture in the paper and (maybe) come home.

*1978: It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas. Zomorod Yusefzadeh is living in California with her Iranian family during the Iran hostage crisis. No wonder she wants to change her name to Cindy!

*1984: Time Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. On his twelfth birthday, Al receives two gifts: a hamster and a letter from his deceased dad. The letter informs Al that it might be possible for him to use his dad’s time machine to go back in time and prevent his father’s death. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for Al to even get to the place where his dad’s time machine is waiting, not to mention the difficulty of manipulating past events to change the future.

1989: Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet. Noah Keller has a pretty normal life, until one wild afternoon when his parents pick him up from school and head straight for the airport, telling him on the ride that his name isn’t really Noah and he didn’t really just turn eleven in March. Now, the family is headed for East Berlin, and Noah/Jonah mustn’t ask any questions.

2001: Nine, Ten: A September 11 Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Four children living in different parts of the country are affected by the events of September 11, 2001.

2001: Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Actually set in 2016, this story is about three schoolchildren who are studying the events of 9/11 and who come to see its impact on their own lives.

2011: The Turn of the Tide by Roseanne Parry. Two cousins on opposite sides of the Pacific experience the 2011 tsunami.

A few notes about this list:

Some of the blurbs are taken from Amazon or from Goodreads and edited to fit my list.

My favorites of the ones I’ve read are *starred. No, I haven’t read all of these. Links are to Semicolon reviews of the books that I have read and reviewed.

Some of these are straight historical fiction, and others are time travel or other fantasy books set mostly in the time period indicated.

Finally, we need more (excellent!) books for middle grade readers set in ancient times and in the middle ages or at least before 1800. I know of lots of older books set in these time periods, but not many are being published now. Too much research required? Or just a lack of interest?

12, no, 13, Best Middle Grade Fantasy/Science Fiction Books of 2016

I read about 100 middle grade fiction books out of all the ones that were published in 2016. These are the ones, a baker’s dozen, that I thought were the best of the lot.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin.

Time Traveling With a Hamster by Ross Welford.

The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore.

Edge of Extinction: The Ark Plan by Laura Martin.

Voyage to Magical North by Claire Fayers.

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart.

The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard (Peter Nimble, #2) by Jonathan Auxier.

The Goblin’s Puzzle: The Adventures of a Boy With No Name and Two Girls Called Alice by Andrew S. Chilton.

Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff.

Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

12 Best Adult Fiction Books I Read in 2016

The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute.

The Martian by Andy Weir.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. Frank Drum, son of a Methodist minister, looks back on his thirteenth summer in Bremen, Minnesota where he and his brother Jake experienced death, secrets, false accusations, prejudice and growing up.

The Ringed Castle by Dorothy DUnnett.

Checkmate by Dorothy Dunnett. These are the final two books in the Lymond series about a ne’er do well younger brother to a Scottish lord. Lymond ranges across Europe and the Middle East in these books, set during the sixteenth century, as he pursues adventure and romance.

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini. Pirates!

Still Alice by Lisa Genova.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon. Dooley and Lace finally get married, not without comic mishaps and a few misunderstandings.

Ross Poldark by Winston Graham. Half of the first Poldark season is contained in this first novel in the series.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber.

Talking to Strange Men by Ruth Rendell.

To round this list off to twelve, I’ll add a book that has been on my TBR list for a while, but that I have not yet read. However, Computer Guru Son says that one of the best books he read in 2016 was The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. It’s just been moved up to the top of my 2017 TBR list.

Links are to my reviews here at Semicolon.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

Kelly Barnhill on writing The Girl Who Drank the Moon: “I started writing this book, finally, in a small purple notebook at four in the morning in an un-air-conditioned motel room in Costa Rica during my honeymoon.”

The Girl Who Drank the Moon may be much too witchy for some readers. It was a little too witchy for me. There’s a mostly good witch, and a bad witch, and a fellowship of Sisters who are really deluded and autocratic, or blind follower, witches, and a young girl who grows up to be a good witch under the tutelage of the first witch in this list. From all of that witchiness it may seem that the book is about witches, but it’s really about magic, and growing up, and child sacrifice, and adoptive families, and birth families, and extended families. In all of those “abouts” or themes, I thought the book was so good that I didn’t mind the witchiness too much, although I’d rather the word “magician” or something else were used.

The characters are Xan, the Witch in the Forest; and Glerk, the Swamp Monster; and Fyrian, the Perfectly Tiny Dragon; and Luna, the baby who is enmagicked by feeding on too much magical moonlight. The story tells of Luna’s childhood with her adoptive mother, Xan, deep in the forest, and of the harsh life of the villagers who live in the Protectorate on the edge of the forest. The villagers are governed by the dictatorial Council of Elders and by the Sisters of the Star, and they live lives of deprivation and poverty while the Elders and the Sisterhood benefit from the villagers’ fear of the forest witch and their sorrow over the many infants that have been sacrificed to appease the witch.

I could not help thinking of the many, many infants that have been sacrificed to Fear and to autocratic Old Men in our own country over the years since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1973. How much sorrow has fed how many demons since that edict was handed down?

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is not an anti-abortion book, or any kind of Book With a Message. I’m not sure the author ever intended the analogy to be drawn between the babies sacrificed to the witch and the babies sacrificed to abortion. Nevertheless, I can’t be the only one who saw the underlying similarity. This book is a lovely story with beautiful writing and memorable characters.

Examples of the beautiful sentences that will draw and hold word-lovers:

“This is what allows her to wander the world, spreading her malevolence and sorrow. This is what allows her to elude capture. We have no power. Our grief is without remedy.”

“Her mother gathered the flowers of particular climbing vines and sapped them of their essences and combined them with honey that she pulled from the wild hives in the tallest trees. She would climb to the tops, as nimble as a spider, and then send the honeycombs down in baskets on ropes for Xan to catch. Xan was not allowed to taste. In theory. She would anyway. And her mother would climb down and kiss the honey from her little-girl lips.”

Lots more lovely writing is available in this book if like that sort of thing (I do).

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

The best middle grade sports fiction I’ve read in a long time. Ghost is a book about running, literally running track and metaphorically running away form circumstances and difficulties of life, trying to run away from oneself.

Seventh grader Castle Creshaw has given himself a nickname, Ghost. Ever since his drunken, abusive dad fired a gun at him and his mom, Ghost knows how to run—and run fast. He thinks of himself as a basketball player, since that’s the game with most credibility and reputation in his neighborhood, but when he accidentally becomes involved with a track team, he finds his talent, his sport, and his community. Coach becomes his substitute father figure, and the team becomes Ghost’s family. But what will Ghost do when it all threatens to fall apart, and the disintegration is all Ghost’s fault?

This short novel could sound like a cliched high interest/low reading level sports fable. “Troubled African American boy from a poverty-stricken neighborhood and family discovers his sports talent and learns to be a man under the tutelage of a wise and caring coach.” And the book is short, only 180 pages. And Ghost sounds like a seventh grader, a twelve year old, somewhat street-wise, but not jaded or too cynical about himself or others in spite of his family history. These are things—the simple plot, the length, and the voice of Ghost as narrator–that combine to make the book accessible.

But Ghost has a little something extra that makes it transcend the genre. Maybe it’s the minor characters, other members of Ghost’s track team, who seem as if they could jump out of the pages of this novel as full, well-rounded characters themselves. (Ghost is the first book in a planned series, so maybe the other team members will get their own book.) Or maybe Ghost is good because I really wasn’t sure how the crisis was going to be resolved in the end. Maybe I just liked that the book is realistic and believable, but also hopeful. Ghost experiences consequences for his very poor decisions over the course of the story, but those consequences don’t ultimately ruin his life. I like that a lot.

I would suggest Ghost for runners and readers and readers who run, and for anyone else who wants a feel-good sports story that will draw you in and capture your heart.

Memories and Time Loops

The Memory Thief by Bryce Moore.

Benji and Kelly are fraternal twins whose parents are always arguing and on the edge of divorce. When Benji meets an old man who tells him that it is possible, although perhaps not wise, to steal people’s memories, and even give them to other people, Benji is determined to make his parents reconcile by removing their memories of why they hate each other. Memory theft, and memory sharing, and memory replacement all turn out to be more complicated and dangerous than Benji could have imagined, and when an evil Memory Thief turns up in Benji’s hometown and starts stealing people’s memories and making them into soulless, empty near-zombies, Benji has to bring his parents back together, learn to use his new memory manipulation skills for good, and stop the evil Genevieve.

Both the narration, by Benji, and the dialog, were awkward at times, with the narrator and the speakers using words and phrases that were too formal or too “writerly” for normal, everyday speech. Either this awkwardness got better as the story progressed, or I began to be able to ignore it. This story is also quite dark. Benji’s parents are very angry and bitter, and for a brief spell, Benji takes all of their angry memories into his own mind, causing him to be enraged and somewhat violent with those around him. At another point in the story Benji experiences a memory theft-induced despair that makes him sit in a stupor and tell himself that life is not worth living. In the end, Benji is not able to fix his family, but he does come to a resolution that might turn things around for them. And Benji himself is quite a hero throughout the story. This novel would give readers a lot to think about or talk about while providing a satisfying and absorbing time travel-ish adventure.

The First Last Day by Dorian Cirrone.
Instead of being stuck in Groundhog Day, Haleigh Adams gets to repeat the last day of summer over and over with the ehelp of some magical paints and after she wishes for a “mulligan” on that last evening. At first, she thinks that reliving that last day of summer is great, especially since her friend Kevin’s G-mags had a stroke at the end of that very day. But when Haleigh wakes up every morning, it’s August 26th all over agin, and G-mags is fine, at least until nighttime.

But Haleigh finds that living the same day over and over, even if it does short circuit the bad things that are starting to go wrong, even if it does “save G-mags’ life, also stops the good things from coming to fruition. Haleigh’s mom may never be able to have a baby sister or brother to add to Haleigh’s family. Haleigh herself may never find out whether friendships can last after summer vacation. And even G-mags doesn’t really want time to stop. So how can Haleigh make time start moving again?

This one is written on a little bit simpler level than The Memory Thief or Time Traveling With a Hamster, and it’s not quite as dark as either of those books. However, the death of a loved friend or family member is a theme as well as Haleigh’s struggles over whether or not to deceive people in pursuit of a time re-start and her questions about how to sustain a friendship through time. It’s a good third to fifth grade read.

Time Traveling With a Hamster by Ross Welford.

“The word Geordie refers both to a native of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and to the speech of the inhabitants of that city. There are several theories about the exact origins of the term Geordie, but all agree it derives from the local pet name for George. It is sometimes mistakenly used to refer to the speech of the whole of the North East of England. Strictly speaking, however, Geordie should only refer to the speech of the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the surrounding urban area of Tyneside.” ~British Library

Al Chaudhury, the protagonist and time traveller in this British import, keeps talking about his grandfather Byron’s “Geordie” accent and “Geordie” dialect. I had never heard this term before, and I thought since Al himself was British , but of Indian descent, that it had to do with Anglo-Indian speech or accents. But it turns out that Geordie-speak just refers to the speech of people form a very specific locality, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. So I learned something.

Al’s story, my favorite of the three books featured in this post, is again about memory and time travel. On his twelfth birthday, Al receives two gifts: a hamster and a letter from his deceased dad. The letter informs Al that it might be possible for him to use his dad’s time machine to go back in time and prevent his father’s death. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for Al to even get to the place where his dad’s time machine is waiting, not to mention the difficulty of manipulating past events to change the future.

Al must do a lot of things that are wrong—breaking and entering, stealing, lying, arson–to make things “right” in the past and save his dad’s life. He, of course, tells himself that he is doing wrong in order to accomplish a greater good. This end-justifies-the-means is a theme in all of these books. Is it OK to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate other people’s minds and memories in order to achieve a greater good or save someone’s life or make things right after you have messed them up with your original magical manipulations? I would say that all three stories come to much the same conclusion: no, it’s not okay. But Time Traveling With a Hamster is the most ambiguous of the three since Al is actually able to change the past and make things better for himself and his family. And that ability to change the past and the future makes this quote from Grandpa Byron, found near the beginning of the story, rather poignant:

“Life, Al, is such a wonderful gift that we should open our minds to every possible moment and cherish the memory of those moments. Because people change. Places change. Everything changes, but our memories do not. Accept life the way it is, Al. That’s the way to be happy.”

But Al doesn’t accept his father’s death, and in the end, he manages to make everyone happy. Sort of. Time Traveling With a Hamster is strong, well-plotted time travel novel, with an ethnic Indian/British (Punjabi) setting that gives the novel a distinctive flavor. This novel for middle grade readers unfortunately includes some profanity and one unnecessary reference to a teenage character’s virginity or lack thereof.

Christmas in Canterbury, England, 1067

Juliana, the protagonist of the novel The Striped Ships by Eloise McGraw, is exiled from her comfortable home in Winchester by the coming of the Norman invaders to Saxon England. On the morning after St. Nicholas’ Day, she is sleeping in the priory almshouse when she is awakened by bells:

“She was awakened by St. Savior’s bell, loud and close across the road, ringing, she thought at first, for nocturns. But it was, too wild, too loud, too erratic—as if the ringer had tugged hard and frantically, then fled—and there was a growing hubbub of voices outside, in the lane. Around her, others were rousing, scrambling up to cluster around the unshuttered window—and beyond their heads, beyond the black silhouette of the priory walls, she saw the red glow lighting the skies.

There was a fire—a big fire—in the monastery, it might be in St. Savior’s itself. She stumbled to her feet, pushed her way out of the house. She reached the lane just as the bell ceased, and the north tower, which she could see now bathed in flames, above the dark wall, collapsed, with a terrifying, fluttering roar and a final jangle of noise. Wild with panic for Wulfric, she ran, heedless, for the main gate, found the gatehouse aflame, and turned back to run the other way, to the small gate by the cellarer’s storehouse, which stood open, with figures crowding out through it, hampering her as she struggled past. Inside the walls, monks, guests, novices, schoolboys, ran in every direction, black shapes against the garish sky.”

This episode in Canterbury’s history did happen:

The cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1067, a year after the Norman Conquest. Rebuilding began in 1070 under the first Norman archbishop, Lanfranc (1070–77). He cleared the ruins and reconstructed the cathedral to a design based closely on that of the Abbey of St. Etienne in Caen, where he had previously been abbot, using stone brought from France. The new church, its central axis about 5m south of that of its predecessor, was a cruciform building, with an aisled nave of nine bays, a pair of towers at the west end, aiseless transepts with apsidal chapels, a low crossing tower, and a short choir ending in three apses. It was dedicated in 1077. Wikipedia, Canterbury Cathedral

Eloise Jarvis McGraw was a prolific author of children’s fiction, often historical fiction, including The Golden Goblet, Mara Daughter of the Nile, Moccasin Trail, The Seventeenth Swap, and many others. Her books are full of vivid, rounded characters and rich historical details that make the stories she tells come alive. My children especially enjoyed Moccasin Trail when I read it aloud to them many years ago, and I plan to read this medieval tale featuring William the Conqueror and the Bayeux Tapestry, Striped Ships, as soon as I can.