Category Archives: Middle Grade

The Dragon’s Tooth by ND Wilson

Word Lily review

The Dragon’s Tooth by N.D. Wilson, Ashtown Burials book 1 (Random House Children’s Books, 2011), 496 pages

DragonsTooth

Summary
Cyrus and his sister, Antigone, live at an old, rundown roadside motel with their college-aged brother. They have since their dad died and something happened to their mom (leaving her institutionalized). They practically live on waffles. And then an old man comes and insists on renting the specific room that is now Cyrus’s. When he shows up, things get interesting, to say the least.

Thoughts
I had heard good things about N.D. Wilson’s books from various trusted sources, but mostly I’d only picked up vague shadows. Most of what I’d heard, though, was about 100 Cupboards or at least that series. I am so very glad I read this one, though.

Wilson’s writing is superb. The prose thrilled me. Here’s the first two paragraphs:

“North of Mexico, south of Canada, and not too far west of the freshwater sea called Lake Michigan, in a place where cows polka-dot hills and men are serious about cheese, there is a lady on a pole.

“The Lady is an archer, pale and posing twenty feet in the air above a potholed parking lot. Her frozen bow is drawn with an arrow ready to fly, and her long, muscular legs glint in the late-afternoon sun. Behind her, dark clouds jostle on the horizon, and she quivers slightly in the warm breeze ahead of the coming storm. She has been hanging in the air with her bow drawn since the summer of 1962, when the parking lot was black and fresh, and the Archer Motel had guests. In those days, the Lady hadn’t been pale; she had been golden. And every night as the sun had set, her limbs had flickered and crackled with neon, and hundreds of slow cars and sputtering trucks had traveled her narrow road, passing beneath her glow. When young, she had aimed over the road, over the trees, toward Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Now, thanks to the nuzzling of a forgotten eighteen-wheeler, her glow has gone and she leans back, patiently cocking her arrow toward the sky, waiting to ambush the clouds.”

Isn’t that excellent? And the story’s pretty great, too. I don’t want to give spoilers, but aspects of this book reminded me of Diagon Alley — how right under the noses of the oblivious, magical things live and transpire. Not that this is any kind of a rip-off. The Dragon’s Tooth struck me as a wholly original story. Not that I’m well-versed enough in the genre to know such a thing. (Sheesh. Maybe it’s time for me to wrap this up and go do something else.)

Cyrus is a really great character in the ways that matter most. Intriguing, relatable, flawed. Actually, all the characters are pretty well drawn. Even the villains are nuanced and maybe even likable.

Isn’t it always thrilling to “discover” an author with a backlist? I’m excited to read the next one in this series, The Drowned Vault, and the third one (Empire of Bones) comes out this fall. (Besides reading his older books.)

… And I also feel the need, more strongly than ever now, to read Diana Wynne Jones. In fact, maybe I need to go on a long middle grade and YA fantasy reading tear?

Rating: 4.75 stars

Other reviews
Charlotte’s Library
Pages Unbound
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Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin

Word Lily review

Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin (Feiwel & Friends, 2011), 240 pages

Summary
Pearl feels like the very uncool little sister, especially compared to the great life Lexie (eighth grade) has — with a boyfriend, tons of friends, great grades — while Pearl’s only boyfriend is the cat, Bitey (the name’s not ironic), and she doesn’t even have her own key to the apartment.

Thoughts
I picked this up because it’s by the Ann M. Martin, the author of the Baby-Sitters’ Club books, and I’d just had a conversation about reading those books and was feeling nostalgic. It also didn’t hurt that I knew it would be a quick read! 🙂

This was a fun story about starting to know yourself and growing up, grasping some self-control. I felt for the character, who was moved ahead in school based on academic testing but perhaps before she was ready for it socially.

The “hand-drawn” lists and charts are a definite plus.

It’s been a bit since I read a middle grade book, but this one felt like it skewed a bit younger than most/some. The protagonist is (just barely) 9 years old.

Rating: 3 stars

Other reviews
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I received this book from the publisher. I am an Amazon Associate and receive a small commission on sales through my affiliate links.

Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky

Word Lily review

Juniper Berry by M.P. Kozlowsky, illustrated by Erwin Madrid (Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins, April 26, 2011), 240 pages

Summary
Juniper Berry is the daughter of movie superstars. She has fond memories of spending time with her parents, but since their stardom really took off, they’ve become distant, obsessed with maintaining their status. What’s more, they’ve also — in attempt to safeguard their privacy — essentially shut Juniper up, she never gets to leave the house. Her parents’ eyes are empty, and when a neighbor boy wanders into her backyard, she not only gains a friend but also incentive to figure out what’s wrong with her parents.

Thoughts
I appreciated the first part of the book, the part that details Juniper’s everyday goings on. Her looking through her monocular, telescope, and playing with the family dog, Kitty. The scene involving the home-video of Central Park is especially poignant.

Once it got past the beginning part (I can’t help but think of it as two separate parts, the transition was abrupt), the story was quite dark, which surprised me. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. Dark, and scary, and background-wise, there were quite a few holes I wish had been filled in.

The characters. The cast of characters who actually shows signs of life is very small: Juniper, Giles, Dmitri, and Theodore. Dmitri and Theodore have very little screen time. Even Giles feels like a type, rather than a real person.

I usually really enjoy middle-grade fiction, but this one didn’t succeed for me. It was OK, but *only* OK.

Rating: 2.75 stars

About the author
M.P. Kozlowsky was a high school English teacher before becoming a writer. Juniper Berry is his first book. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

Other reviews
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In Grandma’s Attic by Arleta Richardson

In Grandma's Attic, More Stories from Grandma's Attic, by Arleta Richardson

My well-loved copies of In Grandma's Attic and More Stories from Grandma's Attic, by Arleta Richardson

When I saw that David C. Cook was re-releasing Arleta Richardson’s Grandma’s Attic series of books — including In Grandma’s Attic and More Stories from Grandma’s Attic — well, first I was thrilled. And then I realized, I needed to highlight these books, some of my favorites from my childhood.

The first, In Grandma’s Attic, was originally published in 1974. My copy’s title page is inscribed with my late grandmother’s name. There are other titles in the series, but as I recall, these early ones are the best. I have a fondness for the covers on my early editions (1976, 1979) over the new ones, but I’ll admit the new ones are an improvement over some from the intervening years.

Current covers

These are both listed has having an April 1, 2011 release date, but they’ve been available for at least a few days already.

Apparently my feelings for these books run so deep that I’m rambling rather than being coherent. 🙂

The stories are sweet, but not sappy. And enduring, as the date of original publication and current re-issuing attest. While these stories don’t mirror my time with Grandma, I think they do inform it, somehow.

Did you read these books, were you aware of them? What is one of your favorite books from your childhood?

About the author
Arleta Richardson (1923-2004), in addition to being an author (this is her most well-known series), was also a teacher and librarian.

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The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers

Word Lily review

The Charlatan’s Boy: A Novel by Jonathan Rogers (Waterbrook, October 5, 2010), 320 pages

Summary
Grady (no last name, just Grady) lives on the road, playing his part in Floyd’s scheme of the moment. (His favorite role: He-Feechie, of the Feechiefen Swamp.) It’s the only life Grady’s ever known. But questions niggle; where did he come from? what were his parents like?

Thoughts
Disclaimer: I met author Jonathan Rogers at Hutchmoot, although I don’t think I had an actual conversation with him. He did a reading from this book.

A really fun, imaginative tale. I love the simultaneous Southern and English feel of the story. It’s labeled as a young adult story, but I’d say it could go middle grade, pretty easily.

Grady is a great character, very sympathetic. So very earnest, too.

It’s written in dialect, which can sometimes be annoying or feel off, but in this case it just adds to the (swampy, thick) atmosphere.

This book is published by a Christian publishing house, but it’s not one of those books that really center on the Christian life. It does, however, focus on big questions — Who am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from?

I quite enjoyed this book. The story and the telling itself are both fun, engaging. I’d almost say heartwarming too, but it’s not sticky sweet, not at all. This is one of those books I can recommend to anyone.

Oh, one more thing: While this book is definitely fantasy, the story is so down to earth, relatable, it transcends that label.

About the author
Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Wilderking Trilogy (The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking) as well as a (more scholarly, I assume) book on Saint Patrick. He’s also among the Rabbit Room contributors.

Other reviews
A Christian Worldview of Fiction
My Friend Amy
Whispers of (a new) Dawn
Shannon McDermott
Sarah Sawyer
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Paying dear silver

A poignant quote:

The owner tugged on the halter until the mare reluctantly stumbled into a painfully unbalanced trot. I cringed as my father’s scowl fell upon me. “Why do you choose a crippled animal, Oyuna? You know better! Who would pay silver for such?”

But the white mare was being led back to me, her dark eyes looking into mine. My father was right. Who would pay dear silver for a cripple?

“No one,” I answered quietly. “Because no one would pay silver for me.” Looking into my father’s face, I saw that he flushed. “But this is the horse that I choose.”

—pages 48-49, I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson (taken from an advance copy; page numbers and the text itself may have been changed for the final copy)

I received this book from the publisher.

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, March 2010 rerelease; originally published in 1999), 272 pages

Summary
Like the climate and terrain on the steppes of Mongolia, Oyuna’s life hasn’t exactly been easy. Since her foot was crushed by a horse when she was an infant, her parent’s have coddled her, keeping her inside and away from the one thing she loves: horses. And it’s not just that she loves them, but being on horseback is what gives meaning and joy to her life. She feels whole, rather than crippled, when she’s riding.

Thoughts
I read my fair share of horse stories when I was a kid. They weren’t my favorite books, but I definitely enjoyed them. When I saw this one, though, and it was set in Mongolia? I jumped! Also: What a great title!

As expected, I loved the part the setting played.

I didn’t expect — and didn’t appreciate, either — the heavy emphasis given to the superstitious, spirit-driven religion. I can’t fault its presence in the story, but this was my major complaint about the book. Because of this I personally would be cautious about giving it to a child to read without discussion during and afterward.

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade is a fun horse story for kids, with an exotic setting starring people from a different culture and time. While I can understand why a shell story was used, the transitions between it and the main storyline were abrupt and sometimes it took me awhile to realize what had happened.

About the author
Diane Lee Wilson lives in San Diego and has written several books about horses.

Other reviews
The YA YA YAs

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I received this book from the publisher.

Double Eagle by Sneed B. Collard III

Double Eagle by Sneed B. Collard III, (Peachtree Publishers, April 1, 2009 — it’s available now), 256 pages — ages 9-12

Summary
Mike is spending the summer with his dad, per usual. But unlike years past, this summer the 14-year-old is not in Florida. This year, 1973, he’s on an Alabama island, where his dad is teaching at a marine lab. Mike’s not too excited about the change at first, but it’s not long before he and his new friend are exploring an old Civil War fort. They uncover more than they bargained for, though, and when a hurricane bears down on Shipwreck Island, tension mounts.

Thoughts
Mike and Kyle are nicely drawn characters. I love the book’s historical and scientific aspects. I don’t often find the sciences portrayed in a fun yet accessible way.

Because we’re inside the head of a 14-year-old male, there’s a bit of juvenile lust on the page, which I didn’t expect. Not horrible, but a little bit off-putting.

Double Eagle is not a wave-making book, but it is definitely a fun read. A great adventure story set in a well-drawn Southern setting against a great back Civil War backdrop.

About the author
Double Eagle is Sneed B. Collard III‘s fifty-second book.

Other reviews
Beth Fish Reads (and an interview with Collard)

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I received this book from the publisher.