Mysterious Children’s Fiction

I'm sharing my recent mysterious children's fiction reads, including books from Sharon Creech and Peter Abrahams. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Down the Rabbit Hole

Ingrid is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or at least her shoes are. And getting them back will mean getting tangled up in a murder investigation as complicated as the mysteries solved by her idol, Sherlock Holmes. With soccer practice, schoolwork, and the lead role in her town’s production of Alice in Wonderland, Ingrid is swamped. But as things in Echo Falls keep getting curiouser and curiouser, Ingrid realizes she must solve the murder on her own — before it’s too late! (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This is a fun, kind of dark murder mystery for MG readers. It’s pretty obvious that this is Abrahams’ first exploration of children’s fiction; some of the things Ingrid does are kind of unrealistic for a kid her age. Still, I enjoyed following Ingrid as she gets in over her head and tries to solve a murder without implicating herself.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Pleasing the Ghost

As nine-year-old Dennis confronts the ghost of his uncle Arvie, Arvie’s eccentric antics and wonderful wordplay keep the reader laughing. But at its tender heart, the story reveals the holes left in our lives when we lose the ones we love. (Summary via Goodreads.com)

I never thought I’d dislike a book by Sharon Creech! She has written some of my favorite books of all time, but Pleasing the Ghost just didn’t do it for me. I think I’m drawn more toward Creech’s MG fiction, rather than her children’s fiction. Still, I found this book cute, and small children will probably still enjoy it.

Rating: Meh

Children’s Fiction Roundup

These children's fiction books are a bookworm's dream! Super fun for readers of all ages. | Book reviews by NewberyandBeyond.com
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Another quick roundup of mini reviews today, this one all about children’s fiction. (There’s even a book from my favorite author, Sharon Creech!)

Heartbeat

Run run run.

That’s what twelve-year-old Annie loves to do. When she’s barefoot and running, she can hear her heart beating . . . thump-THUMP, thump-THUMP. It’s a rhythm that makes sense in a year when everything’s shifting: Her mother is pregnant, her grandfather is forgetful, and her best friend, Max, is always moody. Everything changes over time, just like the apple Annie’s been assigned to draw. But as she watches and listens, Annie begins to understand the many rhythms of life, and how she fits within them.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

The rhythm of this verse novel is amazing. I’m not usually one for poetry, but the free verse works here; it fits nicely with Annie’s love of running. Heartbeat has sweet, unique characters (one of my favorite things about Creech’s books). Like all Creech’s books, this one sneaks up on you and makes you cry. It’s just beautiful. Short enough to read in an hour, but it will stick with you (or your child).

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Travel Far, Pay No Fare

“When twelve-year-old Owen finds that his nine-year-old cousin has a magic bookmark, he joins her when she enters different stories in hopes of finding a way to prevent their parents’ upcoming marriage.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is so cute! Owen and Parsley, thrown together by their parents’ upcoming marriage, discover that Parsley’s bookmark allows her to travel into the books she reads. The two team up in order to prevent their parents’ marriage, but they also enjoy a lot of adventures along the way.

This is a bookworm’s dream! Imagine exploring Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, Ramona and Beezus, and other classic children’s lit first hand! And the kids are pretty great characters, too. I just wish there had been more books that the kids got to explore.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

“Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.

Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high.” (Summary via Goodreads.com)

This book is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Westing Game. Kyle and some of his friends win a chance to enter the brand new fantastical library built by a famous gamemaker before anyone else. But before they can leave, they must solve puzzles and win games in order to escape.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is an easy read that makes you want to visit that library (it has some amazing features that even my beloved library system can’t boast!). However, the writing sometimes tries too hard to be clever, and many of the kids are irritating or stereotypical. If you can get past those flaws in the writing, bookloving kids (and adults) will probably enjoy this one.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

Book Pairing: Walk Two Moons and One Hundred Years of Solitude

The next installment in the Reading to Distraction book pairing challenge. | A book review by newberyandbeyond.com
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You may remember from my Hobbit review that I’m taking part in the Reading to Distraction reading challenge this year. In this challenge, based on a BuzzFeed article, you read one favorite childhood book, and then read a similar, grown-up version. It has taken me a while to get around to the next book pairing on my list, because of the “adult book” in the pairing.

The books in this pairing are Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (if you’re a long time reader of this blog, you can probably see where this is going) and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. According to the BuzzFeed article, here’s the connection:

Walk Two Moons is a story within a story, told by a girl longing for her missing mother. The tale she weaves is fantastical, tinged with spirituality, mysticism, grief, a bit of romance, and rich descriptions of the land. Marquez’s epic masterpiece widens the scope of each of those themes. In a long and entrancing history of the mythical town of Macondo, he writes about love, revolution, prosperity, loss, and the tragic rise and fall of a family.

 

Walk Two Moons
The Newbery book Walk Two Moons is one of my favorite books of all time. I loved it as a kid, and I continue to reread it even now. Sal is a fantastic character, and her world is populated with the same kind of offbeat but lovable characters that Sharon Creech is so good at writing. There’s a bit of mystery, some humor, and some very moving moments as Sal regales her grandparents with the tale of her friend’s missing mother, as they journey to visit Sal’s own missing mother. The story is one you won’t soon forget, and it holds up to repeated re-readings.

Rating: Re-read Worthy

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Unfortunately, this book did not even come close to the power of Walk Two Moons for me. One Hundred Years left me feeling confused and often bored. First of all, all the characters have the same names. I get that the author is using that as a tool to connect the generations of this messed-up family and show that time, for them, is circular and repetitive, but I still had an incredibly hard time figuring out who was who. The book was full of magical realism–not often something I enjoy–and it was often more atmospheric than plot-oriented (if you want to see my previous ventures into hefty, atmospheric books, look here and here).

Rating: Not My Cup of Tea

Now that I’ve read both books in this pairing, I can sort of see why BuzzFeed chose to put these two together. Both have an almost magical feel at times (though the level of this magic varies wildly), and both have a sense of timelessness, in that the characters do not seem to experience time in the same way that we do. However, I was very disappointed not to find a grown-up version of my childhood favorite, Walk Two Moons. But maybe that’s okay–maybe Walk Two Moons is just as grown up as it needs to be. It certainly didn’t suffer in my latest re-reading, and I definitely recommend that you pick it up, no matter what your age.

Book Reviews: Sharon Creech

Sharon Creech is one of my favorite Newbery authors.  Walk Two Moons is one of my favorite children’s books period, and I’m also a fan of Chasing Redbird, Ruby Holler, and The Wanderer.  So when I found a collection of Sharon Creech books on my library shelf that were brand new, I couldn’t resist.  I checked out four of them, and I’ve collected my short reviews for them here.

Book Reviews: Sharon Creech | Newbery and Beyond
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The Unfinished Angel–this book is similar to some of Creech’s books for younger kids, such as Granny Torrelli Makes Soup, in that it’s very short and pretty simplistic.  The story is kind of cute but has very little plot.  It is set in Italy and centers around an angel who has been around for many, many years, but still feels unfinished (some weird language choices occur in this book, which is narrated by the angel, because the angel doesn’t quite know how human words work).  A young girl and her father move into the tower where the angel lives, and the girl proceeds to direct the angel to help people in the town, including a group of homeless children.  Like Granny Torrelli, I think this book would be much more appreciated by younger kids than by teenagers and adults.

Rating: Meh

The Boy on the Porch–this is another fairly short story, although this one has a more complex (ish?) plot than Unfinished Angel.  A boy suddenly appears on John and Marta’s porch, and although they have no idea where he came from, and he can’t speak to give them information, the couple cares for the boy until the unspecified time when his parents or guardians will return for him.  The story has a somewhat ambiguous ending (what happened to the boy in the meantime?), but John and Marta are sympathetic characters who are trying to do the right thing in a strange, unexpected situation.  The rural setting is classic Sharon Creech, although it isn’t as well fleshed out as it might have been in a longer book.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

The Great Unexpected–this book is beautifully written, and woven together well.  The story jumps between Blackbird Tree, a town in the U.S., and Ireland.  In Blackbird Tree, Naomi and Lizzie are good friends, although they often get on each other’s nerves.  When Finn, a cute, mysterious boy, arrives in town, everything starts to change.  Nula and Joe, Naomi’s adoptive parents, are a great couple, although they have suffered tragedy (most characters in the book have lost at least one family member, and often more than one).  This book is all about the quirky characters–in Blackbird Tree, we have One Arm Farley, Crazy Cora, and Witch Wiggins; in Ireland, there are Mrs. Kavanagh and Pilpenny.

The way the two narratives are woven into one is unexpected and satisfying.  The connections between Blackbird Tree and Ireland make this book something pretty special.

Rating: Pretty Darn Good

The Castle Corona–the first thing I noticed about this book were the beautiful full-color illustrations (reminiscent of old illuminations in medieval books).  They were simple and colorful, and they matched perfectly with the tone of the book.  Speaking of which, the tone and subject matter were unusual for a Sharon Creech book.  I’m used to her books about modern-day kids living in rural settings with lots of quirky characters–this one is set at a castle in medieval times and is told almost like a fairy tale.  There are a couple of peasant orphan children, a hermit, a king and queen, a vain princess, two princes, stolen items, and more.  Everyone learns that, whether you are rich or poor, royalty or peasant, everyone has things about their life that they don’t like and dream of a different life.  A little weird in that I expect something different from Sharon Creech, but not bad.

Rating: Good but Forgettable

Do you have any go-to authors?  Let me know in the comments!

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