Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

I don’t think I’ve read many books in which the protagonist is a talking tree. The only other tree protagonist I know of is The Giving Tree. Of course, Tolkien was fond of trees: Old Man Willow, The White Tree of Gondor, and the Ents and their tree herds. In this novel by the author of the Newbery Award winner The One and Only Ivan, Red is a venerable old oak tree who has a traditional role as the neighborhood “wishtree”: people hang rags and papers and other pieces of cloth with wishes written on them on the branches of the red oak, Red. Apparently the wishtree is a Celtic tradition.

“A wish tree is an individual tree, usually distinguished by species, position or appearance, which is used as an object of wishes and offerings. Such trees are identified as possessing a special religious or spiritual value. By tradition, believers make votive offerings in order to gain from that nature spirit, saint or goddess fulfillment of a wish.” ~ Wikipedia

Who knew? Anyway, as this particular story goes, the wishtree, Red, watches over the neighborhood, until a new family moves in and the neighborhood is divided by prejudice and bigotry. Can Red fulfill a wish and bring two friends together, even though the old oak has never done such a thing before? And can Red’s friends—Bongo the crow and HairySpiders the mother opossum and Agnes the owl, among others—save Red from being cut down and stump ground?

This story was a nice, gentle tale about countering hatred and misunderstanding with loving persistence. It wasn’t particularly memorable or outstanding, but it does have a good theme and a decent ending. And I liked the idea of the wishtree, stripped of all the pagan elements. Maybe my tree in my front yard that was was just planted last year will become a wishtree. I’d like that.

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This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine by Caroline Starr Rose

The Klondike Gold Rush. I’ve read lots of books about the early 1850’s and the California Gold Rush, but I don’t really know much about the Klondike Gold Rush of the late nineteenth century.

The Klondike Gold Rush was a migration by an estimated 100,000 prospectors to the Klondike region of the Yukon in north-western Canada between 1896 and 1899. Gold was discovered there by local miners on August 16, 1896, and, when news reached Seattle and San Francisco the following year, it triggered a stampede of prospectors. Some became wealthy, but the majority went in vain. ~Wikipedia

Eleven year old Jasper and his older brother Melvin become two boys caught up in the maelstrom that was the Klondike Gold Rush in this adventure story. As the boys travel to gold rush country together, they learn to depend on one another and to persist in their quest, even when it looks as if all is lost.

The characters in this novel were quirky, but believable for that place and time when there were a lot of quirky and cantankerous old prospectors running around. I liked the fact that there were good people who helped each other out and followed the “miner’s code” and others who were thieves and lazy schemers who just wanted to get rich quick. Also, the consequences of Jasper’s foolishness were realistic and dangerous. The riddle part was a bit hard to swallow, but it made a nice mystery to hang the plot onto. All-in-all, a good story.

After reading this fictional take on the Klondike Gold Rush, I wanted to read a couple of other titles from my shelves on the same subject, but I haven’t had time yet to do so. Anyway, here are the wo that I plan to read as soon as I finish the dozens of middle grade speculative fiction books I have on deck for the Cybils:

The Gold Miners’ Rescue: Sheldon Jackson by Dave and Neta Jackson. Historical fiction about real-life doctor and missionary, Sheldon Jackson. A boy, Adam, recently graduated from the Sitka Industrial and Training School, joins Dr. Sheldon Jackson on his 1897 expedition to the Yukon to rescue hundreds of starving gold miners and to bring reindeer to the indigenous peoples of the area.

The Alaska Gold Rush by May McNeer. Landmark book #92. The story begins with a morning newspaper headline: “Gold! Gold Strike in the Klondike!” And it ends with a chapter on all of the stories that came out of the Klondike Gold Rush from writers such as Robert Service and Jack London and Rex Beach and from old-timers who still talk (or still did talk when this book was published in 1960) of the sourdoughs and miners such as Belinda Mulroney and Skookum Jim and Big Alex, King of the Klondike. I really want to read this book soon.

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Little Girl With Seven Names by Mabel Leigh Hunt

Before there was Tikki-tikki-tembo-no-sa-rembo-chari-bari-ruchi-pip-peri-pembo, author Mabel Leigh Hunt (b.November 1, 1892, d.September 3, 1971) told the story of a little Quaker girl named Melissa Louisa Amanda Miranda Cynthia Jane Farlow, a girl with a great long name almost as long and almost as troublesome to her as Tikki-tikki-tembo’s name was to him.

Melissa Louisa is named after her two grandmothers and her four maiden aunts, and even when the other children make fun of her very long name, she finds that she can’t get rid of any part of it, for fear of offending or hurting one of the family members that she dearly loves. What is a little girl to do?

This beginning chapter book of only sixty-four pages is just the right length for beginning readers who are working their way up into books with more text than pictures. Melissa Louisa is about six or seven years old in the stories, and she acts like a six or seven year old. The ensuing misunderstandings and adventures are tame enough but also surprising and delight-filled for young readers.

Author Mabel Leigh Hunt is not to be found in Jan Bloom’s two volumes of Who Should We Then Read?, but she is a worthy author with a gift for storytelling. Two of her books won Newbery Honors: Have You Seen Tom Thumb? in 1943 and Better Known as Johnny Appleseed in 1951. Ms. Hunt was born into a Quaker family herself, and as an adult she became a librarian and then an author, often writing about Quaker boys and girls in her books. The books, which have an old-fashioned air and a childlike sense of humor, are fresh and lively and suited to a new generation of children who like to read about “olden times and places.”

Other books for young readers about Quaker children:
The Double Birthday Surprise (or Present) by Mabel Leigh Hunt.
Cupola House by Mabel Leigh Hunt.
Tomorrow Will Be Bright by Mabel Leigh Hunt.
Lucinda, A Little Girl of 1860 by Mabel Leigh Hunt.
Beggar’s Daughter by Mabel Leigh Hunt.

The Arrow Over the Door by Joseph Bruchac.

Thee, Hannah! by Marguerite de Angeli.

The picture book series of Obadiah books by Brinton Turkle:
Obadiah the Bold
Thy Friend, Obadiah
Obadiah and Rachel
Adventures of Obadiah

For middle grade and young adult readers:
Lark in the Morn by Elfrida Vipont. About a Quaker family in England.
The Lark on the Wing (The Haverard Family, #2) Carnegie Medal winner, 1950.
The Spring of the Year (The Haverard Family, #3)
Flowering Spring (The Haverard Family, #4)
The Pavilion (The Haverard Family, #5)

They Loved to Laugh by Kathryn Worth.

Downright Dency by Caroline Snedeker. Newbery Honor book.

Books about real Quaker heroes and heroines:
The Quakers by Kathleen Elgin.
The Thieves of Tyburn Square: Elizabeth Fry (Trailblazer Books #17) by Dave and Neta Jackson.
Key to the Prison by Louise A. Vernon. Historical fiction about Quaker founder George Fox.
Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry. Fictional story of Quaker artist Benjamin West.
William Penn: Quaker Hero (Landmark Book No. 98) by Hildegarde Dolson.
Penn by Elizabeth Janet Gray.
The World of William Penn by Genevieve Foster.
John Greenleaf Whittier: Fighting Quaker by Ruth Langland Holberg.
Windows for the Crown Prince by Elizabeth Gray Vining. A memoir about Ms. Vining’s experiences just after World War II in tutoring Crown Prince Akihito, the heir apparent to the Japanese throne. Ms. Vining was a convert to Quakerism.

2014: Quaker Books for Quaker Kids by Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production.

Journey’s End by Rachel Hawkins

A ghost story seems appropriate for today, All Hallows Eve, and a ghost story that takes place in Scotland is particularly fun. Journey’s End starts out mysterious and kind of confusing with the first three chapters set in three different time periods with different characters, but the confusion clears up fairly quickly and the mystery and spookiness remain throughout to the end.

Nolie Stanhope, from Georgia, is spending the summer with her dad in Journey’s End, a village on the coast of Scotland that is sustained by a mysterious fog bank, the Boundary, that hovers just off coast and swallows up any boats that try to go into the fog. Yes, the boats and people simply disappear if they get too near the wall of fog, and now boats take tourists near the Boundary to give them an adventure, but not too near. Nolie’s dad is a scientist who is studying the mysterious and perilous fog, and Nolie’s new friend, Bel, helps out in her family’s business, a souvenir shop where tourists can buy woolly Scots stuffed lambs and postcards and other knickknacks as memories of their trip to the Boundary.

Much is made in this book of the differences between Scots speech and American vocabulary, maybe a little too much. Nolie wonders why Bel is talking about carrying a flaming torch to explore a cave, and Nolie and Bel trade words to reference everything from mad/crazy to bum/bottom to holy cow! or holy hairy coo! Frequent word discussions and interpretations add humor to the story, but maybe they are a little too frequent by the end of the book. Still, we Americans do enjoy a Scottish dialect and accent, and I’m sure, vice-versa.

The ghost story itself is standard: a person was wronged long ago, and her ghost hangs about with the unfinished business of revenge in mind. The fog, the Boundary, is an interesting touch, and it was just scary enough, with just enough humor, for middle grade readers, without becoming evil or morbid. If you’re up for a good ghost story, I’d recommend this one.

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This book may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

For more middle grade ghost stories, I can recommend:

The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston, and its sequels.
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce.
The Court of the Stone Children by Eleanor Cameron.
The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co., #1) by Jonathan Stroud, and sequels.
The Swallow: A Ghost Story by Charis Cotter.
The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
The Saracen Lamp by Ruth M. Arthur.
Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett.
The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn by Dorothy Hoobler.

The Countdown Conspiracy by Katie Slivensky

“Six kids from around the world have been chosen for the first-ever mission to Mars.”

Miranda Regent is the genius thirteen year old from the United States who is one of the six astronauts in training for the international mission to Mars, a peace-keeping mission that will unite the world in a cause that transcends national interests and the recently concluded AEM war. But someone is out to sabotage the mission and the six kids who have been chosen for it. Can Miranda figure out who is behind the threatening emails and the attacks on her and her fellow astronauts before they succeed?

NASA fans and aspiring astronauts, aeronautical engineers and space scientists will geek out on this science fiction/mystery/adventure story. Since I live with a NASA engineer, I think I know what will appeal, even though my own “science gene” has never been in evidence. Miranda and her fellow teen astronauts are an engaging crew, and the tension and adventure really ramp up about halfway through the book when something big goes wrong with the whole program and the kids are left to save themselves and the space program and to preserve world peace all at the same time.

The fact that the kids in this novel are all geniuses may make them a little less relatable, but it also shows that kids are kids no matter how intelligent and talented. Miranda worries about her grades in astrophysics and calculus, but she also wonders a lot about how she can make friends with the other cadets and how they can become a team before the Mars mission blasts off. She thinks about how she looks, and even a little about the guys on the team and whether or not they are attractive and attracted. Not too much mushy stuff, lots of science, and a good solid plot make this book a must-read for sci-fi fans.

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 may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Joplin, Wishing by Diane Stanley

Diane Stanley, the same Diane Stanley who wrote all those wonderful children’s biographies of everyone from Peter the Great to Saladin to Charles Dickens, has published a new children’s fantasy book, Joplin, Wishing. I can’t say I like this book as much as I do her biographies or even her other fantasy novels that I have read, Bella at Midnight and The Cup and the Crown, but Joplin, Wishing is a decent enough story.

Joplin, named after both the singer Janis and the composer Scott, has a hard time at school after her dead and famous novelist grandfather is caricatured in the newspapers as an eccentric, wild, and crazy recluse. The bullies come out of the woodwork and make her school life unendurable. Joplin just wishes for a friend or two, one at home and one at school, and she gets her wish. The fulfilled wish, however, comes with complications; the Dutch girl from Joplin’s delftware plate who grants Joplin’s wish is really a slave to the plate and to the maker of the plate. Can Joplin find a way to set her free?

The book is very anti-journalism, as it is currently practiced. The reporters in this story are villains, making up “fake news” and hounding Joplin and her family to get a thread of something to hang the story on. It’s also an anti-bullying story, which is all the rage these days, but it doesn’t present any clear solutions to the bullying problem. The bullies in the story are forced to apologize for their behavior, but the apologies are mostly as fake as the news, and Joplin just has to endure and hope that the bullying behavior will get old and go away. Finally, the book is anti-slavery, and a little on the dark side in that regard, since Joplin’s friend from the plate was groomed by the magician and artisan who made the plate to be his personal slave and wish-granter in the same way that a child molester would groom a victim. That part of the story is downright creepy.

Most of the novel, however, deals with how to manage to get the girl from the plate back to her own time and place, how to free her. And the mechanisms and plans for doing that are interesting. It’s the first time I’ve seen a legal contract used as a plot device to solve the magical problem of the novel.

Joplin, Wishing is okay, but it could have been better with a little less darkness and cruelty, and a little more whimsicality. I like my novels, even middle grade fiction, to have some serious, thoughtful themes and ideas, but a little humor and whimsy go a long way toward making those serious ideas palatable.

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 may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

2017 Middle Grade Fiction: Short Takes

Apartment 1986 by Lisa Papademetriou. While skipping school, Cassie meets Cassius, an unschooled and independent spirit who is doing research on art at museums all over NYC. Cassie is dealing with her own family and personal issues, and she and Cassius become friends and allies as they discover that Callie’s family history is both surprising and complicated. The story deals with homosexual behavior, family dynamics and regrets, and forgiveness and restoration, all in a fairly standard, morally tolerant, and one-dimensional manner. The “bad guy” is Callie’s grandfather, a homophobic bigot, who is conveniently dead and gone. The “good guys” are all the ones who realize and understand that “people are born gay.”

Posted by John David Anderson. When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, a new communication method becomes a fad: sticky notes. But when the sticky notes begin to turn ugly, Frost and his friends are forced to decide where their loyalties lie. Will they be able to remain friends and even take a new kid into their “tribe”—or will the ugly taunts and bullying notes break up the friendships they have built? The story is told from the point of view of one of the middle school kids, Frost, and I found him to be pretentious and whiny at first, but his voice grew on me. By the end of the book, I was absorbed in the story and fond of most of the characters. Some kids may find the book to be too introspective, but for others it will hit a sweet spot of just right.

Feliz Yz by Lisa Bunker. A gay thirteen year old named Felix lives with his bisexual mother and his gender-switching grandparent (three days a week as Vern and three days a week as Verna; Wednesdays are spent alone and genderless) as Felix deals with he repercussions of a childhood accident that fused his psyche together with that of a fourth-dimensional creature called Zyx. Yeah. If Posted was introspective and angsty, this one is beyond—altogether in another dimension.

Me and Marvin Gardens by A.S. King. Obe Devlin spends his days picking trash out of the creek behind his house and mourning the loss of his family’s land to housing developers. He also spends a lot of time nursing his frequent nosebleeds. Then, one day he finds a new species of animal, and things get interesting. Can Obe save the animal he calls Marvin Gardens from the encroaching housing developments and the curiosity of neighbors? Is Marvin himself a danger to the neighborhood, or is Marvin the solution to the problem of pollution? The story is quite pessimistic and didactic, but if you’re looking for a preachy environmental title, this one will fit the bill.

Gnome-a-geddon by K.A. Holt. Buck Rogers and his best friend, Lizzie, enter the world of their favorite book series, The Triumphant Gnome Syndicate. Immediately, things start to go wrong when Buck realizes that he isn’t necessarily the hero of this adventure, and maybe the gnomes aren’t even the good guys in the story, and trolls, well, trolls are different in the real underground land of the Gnome Syndicate, too. The story alludes to several popular fantasy books, movies, and series, including Harry Potter, Star Wars, LOTR, Princess Bride, Back to the Future, superhero comics, and the Narnia books. Fun for fans.

One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn. I didn’t like any of the people in this ghost story, except for the elderly lady who befriends the narrator at the end of the book. A group of girls bully and torment Elsie, a girl of German heritage, during World War I and the influenza epidemic. Elsie is a liar and a tattletale, and Annie, the new girl in school, must choose whether to befriend Elsie or the mean girls who pick on Elsie. It’s not much of a choice. Unfortunately, there’s no one at school for Annie to be friends with, so Annie becomes one of the bullies. It just gets worse from there with a nasty, mean ghost who harries Annie into a mental asylum.

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Some of these books are also nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley

Cassie and Kate Beasley are sisters who both write children’s fiction. They live in rural Georgia, near the swamps, hence the setting of Tumble and Blue in a rural town near the Okefenokee Swamp. Tumble and Blue is dedicated by Cassie to Kate. It seems the sisters not only share a vocation, but also are close friends and writing encouragers. Cassie’s first book, Circus Mirandus, and Kate’s debut, Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, were both intriguing and rewarding reads.

Tumble and Blue are also friends. Tumble Wilson is a girl who wants to be a hero. She admires and tries emulate her hero, Maximal Star, author of the best-selling book, How to Hero Every Day. Blue Montgomery is cursed with a terrible fate, just like all of the Montgomerys. Actually, some of the Montgomerys have an awesome fate, like always winning or charming animals into submission. But others are not so fortunate. Blue’s fate is that he always loses, every game, every contest, every fight, every time. His last fight earned him a broken arm, so his daddy has left Blue to stay with his Grandmother Eve for the summer at the family homestead in Murky Branch, Georgia (Population: 339).

This book is about fates and talents and persistence and optimism in the face of disaster. Tumble is determined to a hero, even though the results of her previous attempts at heroic deeds have been less than stellar. And Blue is determined not to try anymore, since he always loses anyway. Can the two friends teach each other something, like when to be optimistic and try and when to fold and walk away?

Some of the “gifts” of the Montgomery family members turn out to be curses in disguise, and vice-versa. I was reminded of Ingrid Law’s Savvy series and of Adrian Monk, of course: “It’s a blessing—-and a curse.”

Only in this story, it’s a swamp instead of a jungle.

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 may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

A Single Stone by Megan McKinlay

I read Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island just after I read this book. Both books are partly about keeping the traditions that are handed down, obeying the laws of your own community, and questioning those traditions and laws. But each book comes to a very different conclusion.

In Orphan Island, questioning and breaking with tradition lead to disaster, a disturbance in the natural order of things on the island. In A Single Stone, questions and rule-breaking lead to freedom from tyranny. In the real world, of course, some rules and traditions need to be questioned, but often the law is for our good, and the transgression of that law leads only to evil and heartbreak. Since I believe the latter lesson is one that rarely gets spoken these days, and since I’m a conservative at heart underneath my rebel tendencies, I have more sympathy for the story of Orphan Island than for A Single Stone.

Jena is one of the chosen seven. She’s been trained and molded for this job ever since she was born, and now she leads the other six girls who also have been chosen to tunnel into the mountains to search for the precious mica that sustains life in their isolated village. The village has maintained itself, precariously, cut off from the outside world by a ring of impenetrable mountains all around, by using mica as a fuel for the long, cold winters. Only the chosen seven young girls can fit themselves into the tight crevices and low tunnels inside the mountains to bring back the harvest of mica that allows the villagers to remain alive.

This is the way it is, and this is the way is has been from time immemorial. That’s what Jena has been taught, and she believes the Mothers who teach and train the children to become useful to the village as they grow up. But what if the Mothers are wrong? What if they’re deceiving the villagers or perhaps even deceiving themselves? Can the world be different? Is there a way through the mountains, and is there something or someone on the other side?

Again, it’s a good book, by an Australian author, but I preferred Orphan Island. Both the premises and the conclusions were more intriguing in Orphan Island than in A Single Stone. Read both for comparison’s sake.

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 may be nominated for a Cybils Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Middle Grade Speculative Fiction Books in Search of a Nomination

Cybils nominations are now open. These are some middle grade speculative fiction books that I’ve either read or intended to read that also have NOT yet been nominated. I believe all of the following books are eligible for this year’s Cybils nominations and fit into the middle grade speculative fiction category.

Books in search of a nominator:


Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton. NOMINATED
Tumble and Blue by Cassie Beasley.
Blueberry Pancakes Forever by Angelica Banks.
Broken Pride (Bravelands, #1) by Erin Hunter.
Frogkisser by Garth Nix. NOMINATED
Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr.
Edgeland by Jake Halpern.
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge.
The Emperor’s Ostrich by Julie Berry.
Dragon With a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis. NOMINATED
The Alarming Career of Sir Richard Blackstone by Lisa Doan.
Grandfather and the Moon by Stephanie LaPointe.
Olive and the Backstage Ghost by Michelle Shusterman. NOMINATED
A Properly Unhaunted Place by William Alexander. NOMINATED
Joplin, Wishing by Diane Stanley.
Quest to the Uncharted Lands by Jaleigh Johnson.
The Song from Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold.
Siren Sisters by Dana Langer.
The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler.
The Tiny Hero of Ferny Creek Library by Linda Bailey.
The Silver Gate by Kristin Bailey.
Nevermoor by Jesica Townsend.
Unicorn Power! by Mariko Tamaki.
Warrior Bronze by Michelle Paver.
Threads of Blue by Suzanne LaFleur.
The Wonderling by Mira Bartok.
The Adventurer’s Guild by Zach Clark.
The Night Garden by Polly Horvath.
Emily and the Spellstone by Michael Rubens.
The Emperor of Mars by Patrick Samphire.
The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff.
The Dollmaker of Krakow by R.M. Romero. NOMINATED
The Star Thief by Lindsay Becker.
The Bone Snatcher by Charlotte Salter.
Beast and Crown by Joel Ross.NOMINATED
Word of Mouse by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein.
A Dash of Dragon by Heidi Lang.
Rules for Thieves by Alexandra Ott.
Black Cats and Butlers by Janine Beacham.
Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst.
Last Day on Mars by Kevin Emerson. NOMINATED
The Door Before by N.D. Wilson.

Nominations are open this week and next, through October 15th. Be sure your favorite children’s and young adult books of the past year get nominated. I’m on the panel for Middle Grade Speculative Fiction, and I’ll be working with some other great panelists to whittle down the nominations list into a short list of finalists. But your favorite books can’t make it to the finalist list if you don’t nominate now.

Go forth and nominate!

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here or on this link to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
One or more of these books is may be nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own.