The Button Girl by Sally Apokedak

I want to talk one of my adult children into naming one of my grandchildren Repentance Joyous Forgiveness Abounding (Atwater), the name of the main character in this fantasy novel about a world of slaves and masters and societal upheaval. Sixteen year old Repentance lives in the foggy lowlands in a breeder village where the village couples are forced to “button” (marry) and produce slave children or become slaves themselves. Repentance refuses, and thus she suffers the consequence, slavery to the overlords in the City of Ice, Harthill. Repentance spends the entire remainder of the novel learning that her actions not only have consequences for her own life but those actions and decisions also influence the lives and fates of others, usually for the worse.

The Button Girl was absorbing and entertaining. Repentance was a bit slow on the uptake, impetuous and unheeding of the effect of her actions on others. She takes the entire book to learn to control her tongue and her rash decisions. But some of us are like that, passionate and headstrong, with little understanding of the cost of our hasty deeds. The book is firmly in the YA category; although not explicit, there are numerous references to concubinage, prostitution, and rough sex. The prince, Lord Malficc, is the villain, and he’s a lewd and cruel man, although again his cruelty is more implied than explicitly described.

There are a lot of overheard conversations used as a plot device to advance the action. I think that particular contrivance of convenient eavesdropping is a bit overused. And Repentance has way too much time to think about the many and usually horrible implications of her various past and possible future courses of action. But I enjoyed the novel and stayed up late to finish it. The themes, that our choices affect not just ourselves but also other people and that justice can be a tangled and difficult end to pursue, are well demonstrated in the actions and choices of the characters. For those readers who are interested in books about how society is ordered, for good or for evil, and how individuals can work to effect positive change, The Button Girl is a sure bet. Repentance Joyous Forgiveness Abounding Atwater is a lovely girl heroine with flaws who grows into a mature young woman, still flawed but showing true repentance and growth over the course of the novel.

York by Laura Ruby

York, Book One, The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby.

This middle grade alternate history and steampunk-ish fantasy had a few awkward phrases and descriptions, and I’m not at all sure that all the loose ends were gathered together by the end of the book. (Understandable, since it’s the first book in a series.) However, Ms. Ruby tells such an absorbing and delightful story that I can forgive a few minor bobbles.

“The city had many nicknames: Gotham. Metropolis. The Shining Starr. The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. These nicknames were not always accurate.”

The main character, the protagonist, of this novel is the City, New York City. But it’s a New York City changed and perhaps improved by the benevolence and inventiveness of the Morningstarr twins, Teresa and Theodore, during the first half of the nineteenth century. The Morningstarrs “performed architectural and mechanical wizardry to make New York City the most dazzling city in the world . . . the gleaming metropolis of the future.” Then, they disappeared, leaving “their land and property to a trust in the city’s name” and “a parting gift: a sort of puzzle, or treasure hunt.” The Morningstarr twins were definitely imaginative and eccentric, and for the next hundred and fifty years and more after their disappearance in 1854, people searched diligently for the clues that would lead them to the fabled Marningstarr treasure. But no one found it.

Enter Tess and Theo Biedermann, also twins, but in the present day, twenty-first century. They live with their family in a Morningstarr building, one of the six buildings left in the city of those that were planned and built by the Morningstarrs. Unfortunately, for the sake of history and for the Biedermanns, there’s an evil real estate developer and millionaire, Darnell Slant, who wants to buy up all of the Morningstarr buildings and make them into over-priced cracker box apartment buildings. Can Tess, Theo, and their new friend, Jaime, solve the Morningstarr cipher/puzzle and find the treasure and stop Darnell Slant?

It sounds fairly standard: evil real estate developer, a puzzle to solve, a race against time. However, the alternate history and steampunk elements of the plot and setting keep it fresh and interesting. The pacing is good, for the most part, and I didn’t really know what to expect most of the time. There are echoes of and allusions to Newbery award winner The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin and New York City history and the movie National Treasure, probably other cultural artifacts, too. Those are the ones I noticed and appreciated.

And the book includes some interesting philosophical speculation, especially in regards to life and technology and puzzle-solving. Is the process of solving a puzzle or playing a game its own reward? Or is it the winning or the treasure at the end that counts? Is any treasure worth any cost? How do you go about counting the cost when you don’t know what the treasure is? What does it mean to “be yourself” and to “believe in yourself”? Does faith in some object or journey create its own fulfillment? What is the difference between living beings and non-living artifacts of technology? Can a machine come to have life and agency? Can it respond to its environment and make decisions? How?

York was a book well worth the time spent reading its 476 pages. Fans of steampunk or New York City or puzzling and ciphers or alternate history adventure would do well to check it out.

Educator’s Guide to York from Walden Press.

Review of York at Charlotte’s Library.

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.

If you like Narnia . . .

For the month of July, I’m planning a series of posts about readalikes: what to read (or what to suggest to your favorite child reader) when you’ve read all of your favorite author’s books or all of the books of a certain genre that you know of, and you don’t know what to read next.

Readalikes for Narnia? Well, there’s nothing exactly like Narnia, but the following books might just scratch your Narnian itch:

The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie both by George Macdonald. George Macdonald was C.S. Lewis’s inspiration in many ways, including in the Chronicles of Narnia.

100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson. The story of Henry who finds 99 cupboards behind the plaster in his attic bedroom in his Uncle Frank’s and Aunt Dottie’s house in Kansas. Each cupboard has its own secrets to reveal, but the most exciting, magical cupboard is behind the locked door of of an ancient bedroom belonging to Henry’s grandfather. Sequels are Dandelion Fire and The Chestnut King, and now there’s a prequel called The Door Before.

Andrew Peterson’s fantasy series begins with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and continues with:
North! Or Be Eaten
The Monster in the Hollows
The Warden and the Wolf-King
If you like the first book in this series, you should definitely continue reading the rest of the books because I think they get better as the series progresses.

The Chronicles of Prydain are right up there with Lewis’s works, must-read fantasy for the Narnia lover. These are taken from Welsh mythology, but the freshness and humor are all due to Mr. ALexander’s whimsical yet philosophically grounded writing. The Prydain books are:
The Book of Three.
The Black Cauldron.
The Castle of Llyr.
Taran Wanderer.
The High King.

Read them all, in that order, to learn of an assistant pig-keeper, an oracular pig, fair folk, cauldron-born warriors, a princess enchantress, bards and minstrels, sorcerers and witches, and kings and queens.

The Wilderking Trilogy by Jonathan Rogers. This three-volume story of Aidan of Corenwald has Biblical parallels, but the setting is in a swampy land that reminded me of Florida or Georgia. These stories of Aidan and his relationship with King Darrow, Prince Steren, and the feechifolk are
The Bark of the Bog Owl.
The Secret of the Wilderking
The Way of the Swamp King.

Dealing With Dragons by Patrica Wrede, Book One of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Other books in this delightfully humorous series featuring an independent princess and some grumpy dragons are:
Searching for Dragons
Calling on Dragons
Talking to Dragons

Other possibilities:
E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It.
Half Magic by Edward Eager. Four children are able to make wishes, but only have them half-fulfilled.
Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. Tom hears the grandfather clock strike 13 and finds himself able to go back in time into a Victorian-era garden.
The Gammage Cup by Carolyn Kendall. The story of five non-conformist Minnipins who become unlikely heroes. The Periods, stodgy old conservatives with names such as Etc. and Geo., are wonderful parodies of those who are all caught up in the forms and have forgotten the meanings. And Muggles, Mingy, Gummy, Walter the Earl, and Curley Green, the Minnipins who don’t quite fit in and who paint their doors colors other than green, are wonderful examples of those pesky artistic/scientific types who live just outside the rules of polite society.

The House of Months and Years by Emma Trevayne

This middle grade fantasy about a spooky house that allows certain “special” people to travel through time and space didn’t quite work for me. I’m trying to figure out why.

1) I think it’s it’s a little too creepy, spooky for my tastes. An older man/ghost, Horatio, takes on ten year old Amelia as a protege, telling her how special and intelligent and wonderful she is. He takes her to places that only Horatio and Amelia can go and shows her wonders that only she is special enough to appreciate. And he takes her to a special feast and gives her special “memory-food” that only Amelia can enjoy. There’s nothing sexual or pharmaceutical involved, but it all feels borderline icky and drug dealer and exploitative.

2) The rules of the “calendar house” and the creatures (not ghosts, not really human either) who own the calendar houses are nebulous and unclear to me. Horatio tries to explain to Amelia, hoping that she will become his apprentice and build her own calendar house, but since it turns out that Horatio is a liar sometimes, I couldn’t get a good fix on what was and wasn’t true about the world he and his fellow memory eaters live in.

So, I read the whole thing. And the premise is intriguing, at the very least. Certain houses are built to be calendar houses, with various features corresponding to the seasons, the days of the week, the number of weeks in a year, etc. And these houses are full of magic, enabling the builder to travel through time and space to other eras and climes. But there is a price to be paid for privilege of time travel. Is Amelia willing to “steal time” from others, including her own family, to give herself the ability to go anywhere and experience all sorts of times and places?

Anyway, that’s my take. I didn’t like Amelia very much; she was, for most of the book, a very spoiled and selfish child. And I liked Horatio even less, not that the reader is supposed to like him, I suppose. Amelia’s cousins, who also come into the story, are rather flat characters, tow boys and a baby who never really came alive for me. (However, the baby is named Lavender, which I thought was a lovely name.) There’s nothing overtly objectionable about this book, but as I said, I found it to be kind of disturbing and icky.

A Traveller in Time by Allison Uttley

If ever the term “time slip” applied to a book, it’s this one: Penelope Taberner Cameron slips in and out of two time periods, the twentieth century and the late sixteenth century, like butter slipping about on a plate. She never knows exactly when or how she will slip out of her own time at Thackers, the Derbyshire farm that belongs to her great aunt and uncle, and into another time, the time of Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada. And no one in either period seems to worry too much about Penelope’s odd absences and re-appearances. It’s a sort of ghostly time travel, although it’s clear that Penelope never becomes a “ghost” in either time that she visits.

This British classic was published in 1939, and the pacing and language reflect the publishing date. Penelope’s adventures, and indeed her personality, are rather languid and slow-moving, even though the excitement of a plot to rescue Mary Queen of Scots from her English captivity does something to enliven the novel. A lot of time is spent describing farm life in the 1930’s as Penelope and her sister and brother come to spend their summer holiday, and then an even longer term, with Aunt Tissie and Uncle Barnabas. Then, there’s also a lot of description of what it was like to live in Elizabethan England. I can see how some children and teens would grow impatient with all of the descriptive passages, but I loved it all, as well as the historical aspects of the novel.

There was a BBC series of five episodes made in 1978 based on this book by Ms. Uttley, but it’s not widely available outside of Britain. Alison Uttley was also a prolific author of very popular books for younger children in England, including a series of books about Sam Pig and another about Little Grey Rabbit.

Wikipedia contrasts time slip novels like A Traveller in Time, where the protagonist has no control or agency in going from one time to another, and time travel books, in which characters use a device like a time machine or a magic talisman to make the time travel happen. Even with time travel books, however, the device often gets lost or malfunctions, leaving the characters marooned in another time period. In Traveller in Time, Penelope worries about getting stuck in the 1500’s, and at one climactic point she almost dies while she’s visiting the sixteenth century, an event which she thinks would surely cause her to also die in the twentieth century. Time slipping and time traveling is fun to read about, but I think it would make my head hurt if it actually happened to me.

If you could time slip or time travel, what time period would you like to visit? What is your favorite time slip or time travel book? (Mine are the Connie Willis books: The Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout and All Clear.)

Journey Across the Hidden Islands by Sarah Beth Durst

“‘Once, there were two princesses, Sisters. One trained to be a warrior, at the top of a mountain. She was never allowed to go home. The other trained to be the perfect princess. She was never allowed out of the palace. Until one day, when their father said they were ready . . .’
‘They weren’t ready,’ Ji-Lin admitted.
‘They weren’t,’ Seika agreed. ‘But they had to go, because they were needed. And their journey was more dangerous than anyone thought it would be.'”

In this middle grade fantasy with a hint of Japanese influence (no actual mention of Japan), the twin princesses Seika and Ji-Lin, heir and guardian respectively of the island kingdom of Himitsu, travel together on the ritual Emperor’s Journey to the volcanic mountain where Seika will meet with the dragon who keeps the hidden kingdom hidden with a protective magical barrier. Ji-Lin’s task, along with her winged lion Alejan, is to protect her sister, Seika, and help her to complete the journey. They must reach the the Shrine of the Dragon by Himit’s Day. The safety of the islands and their people depends on two twelve year old princesses and a strong, but immature, winged lion.

What a fantastic book—humorous, thrilling, and at times, even thoughtful. It’s a celebration of sisterhood as the twins test themselves and learn to depend on each other’s strengths and compensate for their weaknesses. There are koji, monsters of various sorts, to fight or avoid, and there are choices to be made, both moral and strategic. Seika, who depends on her mastery of the traditions and rituals of her people’s history to keep the world stable and safe, must learn that perfection in word and deed isn’t always possible and isn’t always what’s needed. Ji-Lin, who has been trained to fight and to protect, must learn that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Both girls, and indeed their father, the Emperor, and all of the people of the Hidden Islands of Himitsu, must grow to accept change and to make new traditions.

It’s not as complicated or indeed as literary as Grace Lin’s award winning novels Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Starry River of the Sky, and When the Sea Turned to Silver, books to which Journey Across the Hidden Islands is sure to be compared. The books do share a common theme: that stories are important and powerful, especially the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we tell about ourselves. But as it turns out I’m more a fan of straightforward with a little bit of funny thrown in, so if you want a fantasy for ages nine to twelve with a hint of an Asian flavor, a solid plot, and good themes, I’d recommend this one.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon by Jennifer Trafton

“Henry Penwhistle’s bedroom door was the sort of door where adventures began.”

And that’s the sort of first sentence that makes me think that this book is going to be a great adventure. Immediately, I am reminded of a wardrobe door into Narnia, or Bilbo Baggins’ front door that led him out onto the road to all sorts of interesting and dangerous places.

“And one day, on top of all the ghostly shapes and squiggles and smears, Henry drew a dragon. . . . [I]t made him think of exotic creatures and perilous places. This dragon was everything a dragon should be: fierce and fearsome and full of fire.”

A door and a dragon. Yes, this story is definitely headed in the right direction.

“[H]e whirled past the overflowing book chest with its stirred-up soup of favorite stories–stories about wild things and unlikely heroes, chocolate factories and tiny motorcycles, buried giants and mock turtles.”

Did you get all of those kidlit allusions? If not, you need to read some more very good children’s books.

I could go on for a long time, quoting sentences and passages from this awesome, adventurous, artistic story and then commenting about how awesome, adventurous, and artistic each quotation was, but now I’m only on page three. And the book has 223 powerful pages. So if I quoted from every page this blog post would become a book—a partially plagiarized, partially fangirling, bloggy book. And you don’t really want to read that when you could be reading Henry and the Chalk Dragon.

Suffice it to say, Henry draws a chalk dragon on the back of his door, but he’s not prepared for the chaos that ensues when the chalk dragon comes alive and goes to school with him. The plot is rather dream-like, for lack of a better word; the things that happen are kind of random, don’t always fit together or follow strict rules, but I didn’t care. The writing is just so good, lots of memorable descriptions and quotes, but not overwritten in the way I felt last year’s Girl Who Drank the Moon sometimes was. And Henry and the Chalk Dragon feels like a children’s book, not trying to push the envelope into YA territory. But it also doesn’t talk down to its intended audience; the story talks about important things like the difference between “real” and “true”, and the importance of friendship and chivalry and art, and what to do when you’re afraid (BE BRAVE) or laughed at (FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT), and the many different kinds of smiles. Oh, and the allusions to classic children’s books are a delight.

I read the book, and then I wanted to go back to the beginning and read it again. But I waited about a week to let the new wear off (or come back again), and now I’m reading Henry and the Chalk Dragon for the second time. I’ll just leave you with few more excerpts to whet your appetite, and then you can be done with this very long, but real blog post, and you too can go and read the truly admirable, original, and applauded Henry and the Chalk Dragon.

“Dragons aren’t scary—well, they are, but they’re a good kind of scary. They’re the kind of scary you want to be scared of. People are the bad kind of scary, he thought. Dragons can only eat you, but people can laugh at you, and that is like being chewed to death by a smile.”

“There is a kind of fear that squeezes your heart with an icy hand and freezes you into a popsicle. But there is another kind of fear that is thrilling and hot, that makes your fingers tingle and your toes tickle each other inside your shoes until you want to leap over the Empire State Building. Henry was afraid with this kind of fear, and it felt good.”

“Miss Pimpernel had at least a hundred different kinds of smiles. Henry thought she must keep them in her gigantic purple purse and pull them out at night to count them, like a pirate grinning as she counted her pieces of silver. She could be his teacher for ten years, and he would never finish learning all the names of all of her smiles. Right now she was wearing her Be-Nice-to-Me-I-Haven’t-Had-My-Coffee smile, which wasn’t her happiest. Still, there were worse.”

“There are many things in this world that do not belong. A volcano does not belong in a bathroom. The Indian Ocean does not belong in Iowa. Ketchup does not belong on chocolate cake. But most, most of all, a teacher’s smile does not belong on the face of a fearsome dragon. When the You-Are-the-Apple-of-My-Eye smile is stretched between two glittering dragon eyes, believe me, you do not want to be the apple.”

Trust me. There’s much more fearsome, smiley, arty goodness where that came from.

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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.

The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden

The first book in my February project of reading the books you all recommended to me from my own TBR list, The Doll’s House by Rumer Godden is, according to the New York Times pull quote on the back of the book, “for little girls who love dolls, women who remember dollhouse days, and literary critics who can recognize a masterpiece.” I must say that having read a lot of more recent fantasy with its emphasis on non-stop action and sometimes crude humor, Ms. Godden’s “masterpiece” was indeed a breath of fresh air and if not a classic, at least a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Tottie Plantaganet is a wise old wooden doll who, even though her “doll age’ is only about seven years old, carries the wisdom of over a hundred years of belonging to little girls and playing with them.

“‘I am as I am,’ said wise little Tottie. ‘I couldn’t be all those things. In all these years, these hundred years, I can still only be me.’ It is very important for dolls that children guess their right ages; some thoughtless children make their dolls vary between six and six months. Mr. Plantaganet for instance was born twenty-eight years old. Tottie was about seven.”

Tottie and her family, Mr. and Mrs. Plantaganet, baby Apple, and Darner the dog, live with sisters Emily and Charlotte Dane. The dolls live a happy life with two girls who love and care for them, and their only wish is for a house that they can call their own instead of the drafty shoebox where they now reside. However, when they do get their own dollhouse, it comes with a new doll, Marchpane, that Tottie knew long ago when she was the property of Emily’s and Charlotte’s great-grandmother. And Marchpane is a home wrecker! What will the Plantaganet family do to counter the selfishness and spite of the conceited Marchpane?

I just thought the writing and the characterization in this 1947 story were so good. Be aware that one of the dolls does come to a tragic, but loving and self-sacrificing, end in the course of the story. Some children might find that aspect of the tale sad or even depressing, but I thought the theme and tone of the story was ultimately uplifting and redemptive.

Did you like doll stories when you were a child? Do boys ever read doll stories? (Maybe if they are disguised as toy stories, like the movie?) What are your favorites?

Here’s a list of some of my favorites in this fantasy sub-genre:

Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field. Hitty is a wooden doll whose first owner is a girl named Phoebe Preble. Hitty’s adventures over the course of the next hundred years are chronicled in this Newbery award winning book.

Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey. Miss Hickory is a country doll made of an apple-wood twig, with a hickory nut for a head, so when her owner leaves New Hampshire to go to school in Boston, Miss Hickory is worried about surviving the winter on her own. Another Newbery award winner.

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, also by Rumer Godden. This one is on my list for reading this month.

Big Susan by Elizabeth Orton Jones. A family of dolls comes to life on Christmas Eve wondering if they will have a tree or gifts this year from the girl who normally takes such good care of them.

The Doll People by Ann Martin and Laura Godwin. “The Doll People series is about a family of antique living dolls that are made of porcelain and cloth. Each member of the Doll family has the ability to talk, walk, play, and, most importantly, go on adventures.” Books in the series are The Doll People, The Meanest Doll in the World, The Runaway Dolls, The Doll People Set Sail. I’ve read the last one, and on the basis of that reading I would recommend the series for doll lovers. A Guide to the Doll People series.

Mennyms Under Siege by Sylvia Waugh. Greenwillow, 1996. This doll story, the third in a series of five Mennyms books, is not a new book, and it won’t appeal to all readers, even those who like stories of dolls and the creatures living hidden lives alongside human beings. Mennyms Under Siege is much darker and more philosophical than most doll books (but not like the creepy, horror doll books I found in abundance when I looked up this subject), and its concern with the themes of death and thwarted love and over-protection feels almost young adult rather than middle grade.

In the Dollhouse: Doll Books Old and New at Book Aunt.

The Fairy Doll & Other Tales from the Doll’s House, by Rumer Godden at Charlotte’s Library.

And here are two series from the past that I would love to take a look at:

Josephine and Her Dolls by Mrs. H.C. Cradock, published in 1915 in England. Josephine’s “sixteen dolls keep her company, and she makes up story events for them. They include Sunny Jim who goes off to fight the war, two Korean girls and Quacky Jack, a yellow duck in a sailor suit.” More about Mrs. Cradock’s doll books.

The Lonely Doll is the first book in a series by photographer and author Dare Wright, published in 1957. Other books in the series are The Lonely Doll, Edith and Mr. Bear, A Gift from the Lonely Doll, Holiday for Edith and the Bears, The Doll and the Kitten, Edith and the Duckling, Edith and Little Bear Lend a Hand, Edith and Midnight and The Lonely Doll Learns a Lesson.

Have you read any of these doll stories, or do you have other favorite doll stories? Not scary horror story dolls!

Trends and Themes in Middle Grade Speculative Fiction 2016

Settings where (fantasy) stories come true
The town of Fortune Falls, where superstitions are the laws of nature.
An alternate universe/earth where mythological creature are real.
A congenital condition in which the words that people use to describe you appear in print on your arms and legs.
A Dream Shop in which dreams are bought and sold and made alive.
A summer camp where paranormal talents are the norm.
A wrinkled mountain village where “stories have a way of coming true.”
A world of paintings lives “behind the canvas”.
A library where books involving supernatural elements are “finished” as they are lived out in the real world.

Kids with father issues
Not as many mother issues in 2016, although they do show up in one or two books.
The Luck Uglies: Rise of the Ragged Clover by Paul Durham. Rye must decide whether to follow in her outlaw father’s footsteps or not.
My Diary From the Edge of the World. A hapless and neglectful father leads his family to the edge of the world.
Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Benjamin Hogan Putter talks to his dead father and tries to carry out his dad’s dying wishes.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones. Jamie’s father is an evil troll, and Annie doesn’t have a father.
The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari. Charlie’s father has “checked out” since his mother died.
The League of Beastly Dreadfuls: The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant. Anastasia’s father is missing, and only she can find him.
Furthermore by Teherah Mafi. Alice feels rejected by her mother and abandoned by her father.
Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler. Bee starts with no parents and ends up with two fathers, or at least two father figures.
Edge of Extinction: The Ark Plan by Laura Martin. Sky’s father fled the North Compound five years ago when she was only seven years old, but Sky is determined to find out why and what happened to him.
This Is Not A Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans. Raul feels deserted by his father, who is grieving over the loss of Raul’s mother.
Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart. Rueben is fatherless.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. Al can’t accept his father’s death.
Red Moon Rising by K.A. Holt. Rae can’t relate to her father and becomes bonded instead to her captors, an alien race called The Cheese.

Death and Dying
My Diary From the Edge of the World by Jodi Lynn Anderson. The Dark Cloud of Death is coming to get someone in Gracie’s family.
Waiting for Augusta by Jessica Lawson. Ben’s dad is dead, but dad’s ashes are speaking to Ben from beyond the grave.
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. Linny’s best friend, Sayra, is dying, and Linny must find a medicine that will cure her.
The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price by Jennifer Maschari. Charlie and his little sister Imogen find a parallel world where their deceased and much-missed mom is still alive.
The Nine Lives of Jacob Tibbs by Cylin Busby. Ship’s cat Jacob Tibbs loses his mother in a storm, and other lives hang in the balance when mutineers try to take over the ship.
Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd. Emma lives next to a graveyard and gives guided tours of said cemetery. She also talks to ghosts and misses her recently deceased mother with a feeling she calls The Big Empty.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. Al can’t accept his father’s death.
The First Last Day by Dorian Cirrone. Haleigh wants to keep her friend Kevin’s grandmother from dying by going back in time.
Red by Liesl Shurtliff. Red will do almost anything to find the secret of eternal life for her granny.
School of the Dead by Avi.

Science and logic versus stories and magic
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier.
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. People on the wrinkled, magic side of the river are in an ongoing conflict with those who live on the plain, scientific side.
Curse of the Boggin: The Library, Book 1 by D.J. MacHale. Marcus and his nerdy friend Theo argue over whether supernatural events are real or can be be explained scientifically.

Ethnic Diversity
Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung. Chloe Cho is tired of being the only Asian kid in town, but things are about to get a lot worse when she finds out the secret that her parents have been keeping about her family’s true heritage.
Curse of the Boggin: The Library, Book 1 by D.J. MacHale. Marcus and his two best friends, Annabella Lu, Chinese American, and Theo McLean, African American, work together to solve supernatural mysteries and lay ghosts to rest.
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimee Carter. I think the different animal kingdoms in this one are supposed to mirror human diversity, with “mixed heritage” characters.
The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow. A group of ethnically diverse middle schoolers gain individual and oddly specific superpowers.
Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. An ethnic Indian/British (Punjabi) setting and characters in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England.
The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz. Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions, William, an oblate who is half-Saracen (African) and half French, and Jacob, a Jewish boy with a gift for healing travel across France in the thirteenth century on a quest.
Rebellion of Thieves by Kekla Magoon.

Magical Child with Hidden Talents, Destined to Save the World
The Harry Potter theme.
The League of Beastly Dreadfuls: The Dastardly Deed by Holly Grant. Anastasia, recently freed from captivity in St. Agony’s Asylum, is half-morph and all-princess. Can she find the Silver Hammer which will help to free her grandfather Nicodemus who can in turn find her father, Fred McCrumpet Merrymoon?
Little D by A. ML. “In a world where magic has been all but extinguished, nine year old Donatella Lou Regent, the last of the famous Regent line, has no idea who she is or the power she holds.”
Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard by Jonathan Auxier. Sophie and her friend Peter Nimble adventure across the Grimmwald and through the city of Bustleburgh to stop the villains who are planning to stop, destroy and immolate all nonsense (stories, magic, wonder, books!).
The Wrinkled Crown by Anne Nesbet. Linny may be the prophesied Girl With the Lourka who will save the people of the divided city of Bend from ongoing warfare.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones. Little Annie Nobody is the child who is destined to be a Time Stopper, find the magical garden gnome, bring it back to Aurora, and defeat the evil Each Uisge and the Raiff.
Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart. Poor, lonely Reuben finds a hidden object, an object that bestows great power on its owner, but also an object that is sought for by a lot of very, very bad people, including the arch-villain of New Umbra who is known only as The Smoke. Can Reuben unlock the secrets of his newfound magical powers and save New Umbra before The Smoke finds him and takes his discovery away?
Behind the Canvas by Alexander Vance. Seventh grader Claudia Miravista finds that she is a magically talented Artisti who can save her friend Pim from a life trapped behind the canvas of the paintings of the world.
The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal. Jack Buckles, finds out, by accident, that he is a Tracker, as was his father before him, and he is the only one who can save his father and the world from the evil Clockmaker.
The Lost Compass by Joel Ross. Chess, the foggy-eyed tether boy, may have a gift that will defeat the evil Lord Kodoc and save the world.
Outlaws of Time: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N.D. Wilson. Sam is the one sent to save the world from the evil Vulture, El Buitre.

Shapeshifting:
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimee Carter. Simon and his family are all Animalgams, people born with the ability to change into a certain animal at will.
The Peculiar Night of the Blue Heart by Lauren DeStefano. Borderline shapeshifting.
Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones.
This Is Not a Werewolf Story by Sandra Evans. Maybe Raul is not a werewolf, but he does shift into a wolf on the weekends.
The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman.

Robots and Artificial Intelligence:
Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger.
Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince by Jean Claude Bemis. A Pinocchio-like automaton.
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown.
Under Their Skin by Margaret Peterson Haddix.
The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer.

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The Lost Property Office by James R. Hannibal

The Lost Property Office, Baker Street Branch, in London is just a front for the secret Ministry of Trackers. And our hero, thirteen year old American boy Jack Buckles, finds out, by accident, that he is a Tracker, as was his father before him. Can Jack use his newfound tracking skills to find his father, who disappeared in London a few weeks ago without leaving a trace behind?

This fantasy adventure was exciting, but sometimes hard to follow. I almost wished for the movie version so that I could see the action, instead of trying to picture it myself from the descriptions in the book. If you’ve read this book I’d be curious to know whether you had the same problem. Maybe I just wasn’t a very good reader.

Jack teams up with a junior apprentice clerk named Gwen, and the two of them go off to save the world —and find Jack’s dad. The Macguffin is something called the Ember that may or may not have started the Great Fire of London back in 1666. So Gwen and Jack end up investigating the fire as well as looking for the Ember as well as attempting to rescue Jack’s dad. It’s all a little frustrating since Gwen is evasive and withholding of information. And Jack has just discovered his tracker abilities, which include being able to “spark” or see visions of the past by touching an object and channeling his thoughts into the history of that object. Jack is just learning to use his tracker talents, and Gwen is supposed to be helping him, but there’s a lot of stuff she’s not telling him.

I found Gwen’s “we’ll talk about that later” and “change the subject” when asked a direct question just as annoying as Jack did in the book. I wanted her to sit down and explain all about underground ministries and trackers and the number 13 and sparking all in one clear, concise speech, but I suppose that would have shortened the story considerably. At 387 pages, it could have afforded some cutting. I did like the historical aspects about the Great Fire and how it started.

Nevertheless, I recommend this book for fans of Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society or Jonathan Auxier’s Peter Nimble. It’s a good romp, and as I said, some of my issues may have been due to inattentive reading.