MMGM: 2017 Middle Grade Books To Read

Okay, so there’s no way I can list EVERY middle grade book I want to read in 2017. This is just a start – the books that are coming out from January to March (some have already released). I’ll post again in March for the next three months. But here’s a start of my first 15:

houseofmandy

I love Emma Trevayne and this book sounds right up my alley

Publisher’s Description (2/7/2017):

A girl must stop the Boogeyman living in her home from stealing her family’s warmest memories in this haunting, atmospheric novel from the author of Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times and The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden.

When her distant aunt and uncle die, Amelia Howling is forced to move into their home when they leave her parents in charge of their children. Her parents assure her that it will be like having a grand adventure with three new siblings, but Amelia is not convinced. Luckily, the house is large, filled with nooks and crannies perfect for hiding from her cousins.

But even with all the nooks and crannies, the rumbling and crumbling rooms are more sinister than they seem. The house was built years ago by a creature named Horatio, and he’s been waiting for the perfect human inhabitant: Amelia. Horatio has the power to travel through time and memories, and lures Amelia into his world. The memories of children, he told her, were the best, and Amelia agreed—her cousins were full of good memories. Until she noticed that once she and Horatio visited a memory, it was gone forever. And she had been stealing the good memories of her cousins and their parents without even noticing!

Horrified and scared, Amelia lets her cousins in on her secret, and asks them for help. Together, they must race through time to recover their minds and break the perfect clockwork of the evil Calendar House.

fablehaven

I haven’t read a new Fablehaven book in years, so this March me and my boys are going to devour this.

Publisher’s Description (3/14/2017):

In the long-awaited sequel to Fablehaven, the dragons who have been kept at the dragon sanctuaries no longer consider them safe havens, but prisons and they want their freedom. The dragons are no longer our allies….

In the hidden dragon sanctuary of Wyrmroost, Celebrant the Just, King of the Dragons, plots his revenge. He has long seen the sanctuaries as prisons, and he wants nothing more than to overthrow his captors and return the world to the Age of Dragons, when he and his kind ruled and reigned without borders. The time has come to break free and reclaim his power.

No one person is capable of stopping Celebrant and his dragon horde. It will take the ancient order of Dragonwatch to gather again if there is any chance of saving the world from destruction. In ancient times, Dragonwatch was a group of wizards, enchantresses, dragon slayers, and others who originally confined the majority of dragons into sanctuaries. But nearly all of the original Dragonwatch members are gone, and so the wizard Agad reaches out to Grandpa Sorenson for help.

As Kendra and Seth confront this new danger, they must draw upon all their skills, talents, and knowledge as only they have the ability to function together as a powerful dragon tamer. Together they must battle against forces with superior supernatural powers and breathtaking magical abilities.

How will the epic dragon showdown end? Will dragons overthrow humans and change the world as we know it?

ethan

I predict this book will steal my heart

Publisher’s Description (1/24/2017):

Ethan had been many things. He was always ready for adventure and always willing to accept a dare, especially from his best friend, Kacey. But that was before. Before the accident that took Kacey from him. Before his family moved from Boston to the small town of Palm Knot, Georgia.

Palm Knot may be tiny, but it’s the home of possibility and second chances. It’s also home to Coralee, a girl with a big personality and even bigger stories. Coralee may be just the friend Ethan needs, except Ethan isn’t the only one with secrets. Coralee’s are catching up with her, and what she’s hiding might be putting both their lives at risk.

rambler

I’m excited for this book just as much as Higgins’ picture books debuts

Publisher’s Description (2/28/2017):

Eleven-year-old Derby Christmas Clark is a rambler of the road. She travels year-round in an RV with her father and younger brother, selling Christmas trees during the cold months and burgers and fries during baseball season. Derby always did prefer grease splatters to hauling trees, so she’s excited that summer will take her back to small town Ridge Creek, the Rockskippers, her best friend, and her surrogate mom, June. But this summer, a tragedy has changed Ridge Creek—and as Derby tries to help those she loves, long-held secrets are revealed. This warm-hearted southern debut is perfect for fans of Kate DiCamillo and Sheila Turnage.

pigface

This has such a classic feel to it … and that title!

Publisher’s Description (2/7/2017):

Eleven-year-old Tracy Munroe and her family have just gotten back from their family vacation—why did no one realize that her little brother, Lester, a.k.a. Pig Face, was allergic to sand, salt air, and the ocean before they decided to go to the beach?—and now she has three big goals to accomplish before she goes back to school:

Figure out a fantastic end of summer adventure with her best friend, Ralph, budding Michelin-star chef. (And no, Ralph, perfecting a soufflé does not count.)

Make sure Pig Face does not tag along.

Get the gorgeous new boy next door, Zach, to know she even exists.

But when Tracy and Ralph discover an envelope stuffed with money in the dugout at the baseball field (and Lester forces them to let him tag along), they have a mystery on their hands. Did someone lose the cash? Or, did someone steal it? St. Stephen has always seemed like a quiet place to live, but soon the town is brimming with suspects.

Now they’re on a hunt to discover the truth, before the trio is accused of the crime themselves.

McLeod MacKnight’s debut middle grade novel is a funny, charming window into small-town life, with a focus on the importance of friendship and family and the struggle to figure out where you fit in, perfect for fans of Polly Horvath and Sarah Weeks.

vilonia

This just looks too cute!

Publisher’s Description (3/7/2017):

Being responsible is NOT easy.

Fourth grader Vilonia hasn’t lost her rain coat in the three weeks she’s had it, and she’s brushed her teeth every night and she’s volunteered to be the Friday Library Helper. But all that hard work is worth it if it means she can get a dog. Besides, this dog isn’t just because Vilonia has wanted one for pretty much ever. It’s also to help Mama, who’s been lost in one, big sadness fog for forty-three days—ever since Nana died. But Vilonia read that pets can help with sadness.

Now all she has to do is keep the library goldfish alive over spring break, stop bringing stray animals home, and help Mama not get fired from her job. And she’s got to do all of it before the Catfish Festival. Easy as pie, right?

forgetmenot

I’m already in love with this story and its cover

Publisher’s Description (3/14/2017):

A girl with Tourette syndrome starts a new school and tries to hide her quirks in this debut middle-grade novel in verse.

Calliope June has Tourette syndrome. Sometimes she can’t control the noises that come out of her mouth, or even her body language. When she and her mother move yet again, she tries to hide her TS. But soon the kids in her class realize she’s different. Only her neighbor, who is also the class president, sees her as she truly is—a quirky kid, and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public?

As Callie navigates school, she must also face her mother’s new relationship and the fact that she might be moving again—just as she’s starting to make friends and finally accept her differences. This story of being true to yourself will speak to a wide audience.

pageprincess

This book premise is irresistible to me and I’m so happy Christina Farley is writing some middle grade

Publisher’s Description (2/28/2017):

A dark secret lurks in Keira’s family. She comes from a long line of Word Weavers who bring their stories to life when they use a magical pen. But Keira’s mom is unable to face the truth of the family’s history because the Word Weavers have been hunted for generations for their power. And so, she forbids Keira to write. Oblivious to the family’s secret ability, and angry at her mom’s rule of no fictional writing, Keira discovers her grandma’s Word Weaver pen and uses it to write a story for the Girls’ World fairy tale contest, believing it will bring her good luck. But when Keira decides to have her fairy tale reflect her family’s imperfect life, and has the princess in her story vanquished to a dark tower for eternity, she starts to wonder if anyone ever truly lives happily ever after.

hellouniverse

I love the message from this one

Publisher’s Description (3/14/2017):

In one day, four lives weave together in unexpected ways. Virgil Salinas is shy and kindhearted and feels out of place in his loud and boisterous family. Valencia Somerset, who is deaf, is smart, brave, and secretly lonely, and loves everything about nature. Kaori Tanaka is a self-proclaimed psychic, whose little sister Gen is always following her around. And Chet Bullens wishes the weird kids would just act normal so that he can concentrate on basketball. They aren’t friends — at least not until Chet pulls a prank that traps Virgil and his pet guinea pig at the bottom of a well. This disaster leads Kaori, Gen, and Valencia on an epic quest to find the missing Virgil. Through luck, smarts, bravery, and a little help from the universe, a rescue is performed, a bully is put in his place, and friendship blooms. 

midnight

Powerful.

Publisher’s Description (1/3/2017):

Rose Lee Carter, a 13-year-old African-American girl, dreams of life beyond the Mississippi cotton fields during the summer of 1955. Her world is rocked when a 14-year-old African-American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. A powerful middle-grade debut perfect for readers who enjoyed The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Brown Girl Dreaming.

someday

Already read this one, review to come (spoiler: I loved it)

Publisher’s Description (1/24/2017):

Charlie wishes his life could be as predictable and simple as chicken nuggets.

And it usually is. He has his clean room, his carefully organized bird books and art supplies, his favorite foods, and comfortable routines.

But life has been unraveling since his war journalist father was injured in Afghanistan. And when Dad gets sent across country for medical treatment, Charlie must reluctantly travel to meet him. With his boy-crazy sister, unruly twin brothers, and a mysterious new family friend at the wheel, the journey looks anything but smooth.

So Charlie decides to try and spot all the birds that he and his dad had been hoping to see together in the wild. If he can complete the Someday Birds list for Dad, then maybe, just maybe, things will turn out okay…

Equal parts madcap road trip, coming-of-age story for an unusual boy, and portrait of a family overcoming a crisis.

siren

I love sister stories and this one sounds intense in all the best ways

Publisher’s Description (1/3/2017):

A soon-to-be siren finds herself responsible for the lives of her sisters—and the fisherman they curse—in this haunting debut novel that Kirkus calls “an exciting fantasy with a heart-stopping ending by an author to watch.”

Lolly Salt has three beautiful sisters. When they’re not in school or running their small town’s diner, they’re secretly luring ships to their doom from the cliffs of Starbridge Cove, Maine. With alluring voices that twelve-year-old Lolly has yet to grow into (not that she wants to anyway) the Salt sisters do the work mandated by the Sea Witch, a glamorously frightening figure determined to keep the girls under her control. With their mother dead after a terrible car crash, and their father drowning in grief, the sisters carry on with their lives and duties…until a local sea captain gets suspicious about the shipwrecks.

On the day before her birthday, Lolly watches in helpless horror as her sisters are lured themselves by curse-reversing fishermen—and suddenly it’s up to her and her best friend Jason to rescue the sirens of Starbridge Cove.

taco

I just feel like I’m gonna love everything about this one

Publisher’s Description (1/3/2017):

Estefania “Stef” Soto is itching to shake off the onion-and-cilantro embrace of Tia Perla, her family’s taco truck. She wants nothing more than for her dad to get a normal job and for Tia Perla to be put out to pasture. It’s no fun being known as the “Taco Queen” at school. But just when it looks like Stef is going to get exactly what she wants, and her family’s livelihood is threatened, she will have to become the truck’s unlikely champion. 

warden

After Stargirl, I’ll read anything Spinelli

Publisher’s Description (1/3/2017):

Cammie O’Reilly is the warden’s daughter, living in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Prison. But she’s also living in a prison of grief and anger about the mother who died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. And prison has made her mad. This girl’s nickname is Cannonball.
In the summer of 1959, as twelve turns to thirteen, everything is in flux. Cammie’s best friend is discovering lipstick and American Bandstand. A child killer is caught and brought to her prison. And the only mother figures in her life include a flamboyant shoplifter named Boo Boo and a sullen reformed arsonist of a housekeeper. All will play a role in Cammie’s coming-of-age. But one in particular will make a staggering sacrifice to ensure that Cammie breaks free from her past.
Master storyteller Jerry Spinelli spins a tale of loss and redemption like no other. The Warden’s Daughter shows that kindness and compassion can often be found where we least expect it. 

magicallyminded

Magic and Manners, how fun!

Publisher’s Description (3/21/2017):

Chantel would much rather focus on her magic than on curtsying, which is why she often finds herself in trouble at Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens. But when Miss Ellicott mysteriously disappears along with all the other sorceresses in the city, Chantel’s behavior becomes the least of her problems.

Without any magic protecting the city, it is up to Chantel and her friends to save the Kingdom. On a dangerous mission, Chantel will discover a crossbow-wielding boy, a dragon, and a new, fiery magic that burns inside her—but can she find the sorceresses and transform Lightning Pass into the city it was meant to be?

So there’s my first fifteen!

I’m so excited for all of these amazing middle grade reads!

How about you? Any book you’re looking forward to? Any you think I missed? I’d love to hear from you.

And if you want to check out even more middle grade recommendations, head on over to Shannon Messenger’s blog for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

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Wonderful YA Wednesday: THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT by Chelsea Sedoti

lizzielovett

Title: THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT

Author: Chelsea Sedoti

Publication Date: January 3, 2017

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Publisher’s Description:

A teenage misfit named Hawthorn Creely inserts herself in the investigation of missing person Lizzie Lovett, who disappeared mysteriously while camping with her boyfriend. Hawthorn doesn’t mean to interfere, but she has a pretty crazy theory about what happened to Lizzie. In order to prove it, she decides to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life. That includes taking her job… and her boyfriend. It’s a huge risk — but it’s just what Hawthorn needs to find her own place in the world.

From the very first page, this voice in this story knocked me off my feet and had me laughing out loud. Literally. If I wasn’t laughing, I could feel my face reacting to the words without being able to control it. Smiling. Smirking. Surprised. It was amazing.

The story flows so quickly and easily, a lot of that in part to the authentic dialogue. All of it is so spot on it seems effortless. And Hawthorn is such a genuine character. I love her because she is super snarky and hating on high school, but admits that she does want to belong and enjoy it and can’t figure out why she doesn’t.

That is so fresh because a lot of YA books have the MC hating high school and all the social circles, and too cool to care if they belong or not. I think a lot of us are more in the Hawthorn frame of mind – we know we don’t fit in but part of wishes we did. This is the catalyst to helping Hawthorn, and ourselves, find out who we are and how to belong as the best version of ourselves.

Sure, Hawthorn did that sort of becoming someone else, but in the end, it works for her. And all of the supportive characters surrounding Hawthorn have purpose and add to the likability of this story. It’s fun to see all the theories come in and I could just picture real people throwing in their wild two cents about where Lizzie would go. Even though the mystery wasn’t mind-blowing, it was page-turning and enough to keep Hawthorn going, which is the whole point.

I can’t recommend this book enough. It has all the good signs of an amazing story and I can’t wait to see what comes next from Chelsea Sedoti.

MMGM: Interview with Abby Cooper & Review of STICKS AND STONES

sticks

Title: STICKS AND STONES

Author: Abby Cooper

Publication Date: July 12, 2016

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Publisher’s Description:

A feel-good middle grade debut with just a hint of magic about a girl who has a rare disorder that makes the words other people say about her appear on her body.

Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about. Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.

I am so happy to have Abby Cooper here today talking to us about her books and her love of middle grade in particular.

I featured STICKS AND STONES in my magical realism round up, HERE, but I knew I wanted something special to highlight how important this book is.

Particularly today, in the world we live in, kindness matters. Middle school is hard enough, without the climate we find ourselves in today. I think more than ever, kids (and adults) need to find out who they are, stand up for what and who they believe in, and use kindness to make a difference.

Abby and her book STICKS AND STONES are here to help us get there.

1. Where did you get the idea for this book?

I’m a pretty curious person, and I’m always wondering about different things. Sometimes I’ll have random thoughts: what if rainbows came out of my glasses? What if cupcakes appeared anytime I wanted them to? What if words showed up on someone’s body? Writing is a great way to explore your questions and curiosities. Sticks & Stones came from that idea, plus various things I saw and heard as a school librarian.

2. What’s your favorite scene in STICKS AND STONES?

I liked writing the scene where Elyse plays the piano in her school talent show. I got to take my character through a broad range of emotions in those few pages: nerves, anxiety, fear, excitement, happiness, relief, etc. I like living out those emotional scenes right along with my characters.

3. What did this story teach you about writing?

That revision is your friend! I’m a messy first-drafter, so I was pretty overwhelmed by all that I needed to go back and fix. (Though I was thrilled to finally have the ideas out of my head!) The more I revised, though, the more I truly came to love it. It was exciting to see things improve and come together in ways I never expected.

4. What is your favorite thing about middle grade?

I love how middle grade explores serious, real-life issues while also maintaining a sense of wonder and fun.
5. Can you please list your top 3 middle grade reads?
I’ll do my best, but it’s so hard to only choose three!! My all-time favorite is Frindle by Andrew Clements. More current favorites are The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt and Two Naomis by Audrey Vernick and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich.
6. What advice do you have for anyone who wants to write middle grade?

Read! I strongly believe that reading middle grade novels improved (and continues to improve) my writing tremendously. Also, test your writing out on actual middle grade people. Kids generally won’t be afraid to give you their honest opinion!

7. What can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

My second book, BUBBLES, will be out July 18th, 2017, from FSG/Macmillan. So excited!
Thank you so much, Abby! We’re excited for BUBBLES as well!
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For more MARVELOUS MIDDLE GRADE check out Shannon Messenger’s website.

Wonderful YA Wednesday: DEAD GIRLS SOCIETY by Michelle Krys

dgs

Title: DEAD GIRLS SOCIETY

Author: Michelle Krys

Publication Date: November 8, 2016

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Publisher’s Description:

You are cordially invited to participate in a game of thrills and dares. Tell no one, and come alone. If you dare.

Hope is sick of everyone treating her like she’s breakable. Sure, she has cystic fibrosis (basically really bad lungs), but she’s tired of being babied by her mom and her overprotective best friend, Ethan, not to mention worrying about paying for her expensive medication and how she’s going to afford college. And she’s bored with life in her run-down New Orleans suburb.

When an invitation arrives from a mysterious group that calls itself the Society, Hope jumps at the chance for some excitement. This could be her ticket out. All she has to do is complete a few dares and she might win some real money.

But the Society isn’t all it seems . . . and soon Hope finds that playing the game isn’t a choice—it’s a requirement.

Oh my goodness. It isn’t often that a book seriously has me turning the pages wondering what is going to happen next and who the heck is behind all of this mischief! But this one did.

Krys writes a very likeable MC in Hope. I was right behind her, wanting her to go to that warehouse on the first dare, because she doesn’t ever get to do anything normal. Sure, maybe something normal would’ve been a better idea than something deadly, but then we wouldn’t have a book and who cares, the stakes were there for sure. She wanted to be more than her Cystic Fibrosis and she wanted money for her very poor family.

Another thing I really liked was the mystery was very well-done and the tension was super high, but Krys still kept the graphic horror level low. She hints and minimally describes bad things happening, but it wasn’t gratuitous.

Truthfully, I really liked Ethan better than the developed love interest, but that’s not a critique of the writing at all, just my reader opinion.

Another thing Krys really shines at is writing teenage girls. Their personalities really jumped off the page. At first, I was a little lost when the four girls were introduced and I couldn’t tell who was speaking, and thought Hope actually disappeared in the dialogue for a long while, but it was only a small blip and I was sucked into these girls lives and not wanting any of them (mostly haha) to lose the “competition”.

The dares were extraordinary for teens to complete, but hey, where’s your suspension of disbelief? We read to experience things we would never do in real life. I loved this book because I felt like I was living a daring life and I seriously couldn’t put the book down or stop thinking of it when I was forced to take a break.

The mystery was well done, the tension and thrills were high, the ending was twisty ( even if it was also extremely cliffhangerly) and I recommend this to fans of a quick-paced read and especially fans of Pretty Little Liars.

 

 

MMGM: Interview with Susan Maupin Schmid & Review of IF THE MAGIC FITS

ifmagicfits

Title: IF THE MAGIC FITS

Author: Susan Maupin Schmid

Publication Date: October 25. 2016

Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers

Publisher’s Description:

Inside an enchanted castle, there’s a closet—a closet with one hundred dresses that nobody ever wears. Dresses like those need a good trying-on, and Darling Dimple is just the girl to do it. When she tries on Dress Number Eleven, something unbelievable happens. She transforms into the castle’s Head Scrubber! It turns out that each dress can disguise her as someone else. And Darling is about to have an adventure that calls for a disguise or two…or a hundred.

This book is exactly the kind of book I would’ve picked up, devoured, and re-read when I was a young reader … but it’s also the kind of book I picked up, devoured and will re-read as an adult reader, and that is what is so charming about it.

IF THE MAGIC FITS has a classic feel to it, without feeling dated or boring. It is funny, tense, touching, and, of course, magical.

The author, Susan Maupin Schmid was kind enough to answer some questions for all of us and I am so pleased to have her!

—Where did you get the idea for this book?

From Eleanor Estes. Her Newbery Honor book, The Hundred Dresses, irked me as a child.  Poor Wanda is teased about wearing the same dress every day. But she claims she has a hundred at home. Except that she doesn’t!! Years later, my childhood disappointment over Wanda’s empty closet caused me to ask: What if there was a closet with one hundred dresses? At that point, Darling Dimple began to whisper in my ear about a castle built by dragons…

—What is your favorite scene in IF THE MAGIC FITS?

When Darling tries on one of the dresses for the first time. When I wrote it I had no idea who would appear in the mirror. I found myself typing Marci’s name—and I laughed out. That was the moment when the dresses themselves came to life for me.

—What did this story teach you about writing?

Hang on to the kernel! Every story idea has a tiny kernel of deeper meaning beneath it. You can monkey with the plot, but whatever you do, don’t lose sight of that kernel! It’s your story’s soul. Without it, your manuscript is a zombie, an undead version of a book, and not a real story

—What is your favorite thing about middle grade?

The magic of possibilities. Middle grade readers are so willing to ask “what if?” What if my dog could talk? What if my best friend turned into a chimpanzee? What if I owned the chocolate factory? And those are my favorite kinds of questions to answer.

—Can you please list your top 3 middle grade reads?

No. I can’t. I read dozens of middle grade novels every year and always find favorites. My all-time favorites are Edgar Eager’s Half Magic, Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, and Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time. Recent favorites: A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Odds of Getting Even by Sheila Turnage (love Mo LeBeau), and The Forbidden Library series by Django Wexler (who should write faster; the idea of making me wait a whole year for another book! Someone should talk to him. Oh wait. I’m writing a series…it’s harder than it looks. Never mind).

—What advice do you have for anyone who wants to write middle grade?

Remember how it felt. Being ten. Being eleven. Turning twelve. In my opinion, that’s the secret to a great middle grade novel: stepping into those middle grade shoes.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk Middle Grade with us Susan! We’re so excited for IF THE MAGIC FITS to come out tomorrow!

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For more Marvelous Middle Grade reads visit Shannon Messenger’s website!

 

 

 

 

 

MMGM: THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL by Megan Shepherd

secrethorses

Title: THE SECRET HORSES OF BRIAR HILL

Author: Megan Shepherd

Publication Date: October 11, 2016

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Publisher’s Description:

There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. In the mirrors that line its grand hallways, which once belonged to a princess. In those that reflect the elegant rooms, now filled with sick children. It is her secret.

One morning, when Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens, she discovers something incredible: a white horse with broken wings has left the mirror-world and entered her own.

Tucked into the garden’s once-gleaming sundial, Emmaline finds a letter from the Horse Lord. He is hiding the wounded white horse, named Foxfire, from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep the Black Horse from finding her new friend, she must collect colorful objects with which to blind him. But where can Emmaline find color when her world is filled with gray?

So, I really wanted to read this book anyway. The magical realism premise is right up my alley. But, then I read that Megan Shepherd called it the book of her heart and I wanted to read it a million times more.

I love her other books and was looking forward to an MG book from her, but books of author’s hearts are my favorite.

So I got a copy of this from NetGalley and I read it in a few hours. I was swept up in the story and I couldn’t put it down.

When you start reading you know the setting is a royal family’s country house that isn’t being used anymore except for as a hospital for children who have been evacuated from London and the main bombing zones in WWII. But the way Shepherd transports you into that time and setting is as magical as a winged horse in the mirrors of the halls in Briar Hill.

Emmaline is such a genuine narrator, if even a little unreliable. She’s honest in her thoughts, desires, and reactions. She sees these horses that no one else can see and finds comfort in them during the lonely days of fighting tuberculosis.

Her best friend in the house is an older girl named Anna, who is on bed rest because her case of “the stillwaters” is further advanced than the rest of the kids. Anna is kind and patient, in spite of her hardships, and she’s always coloring with her beautiful colored pencils and telling Emmaline she hopes to see her flying horses someday.

The other kids in the hospital are rather nasty to Emmaline, and are perfect little villain type characters to keep us rooting for Emmaline, who constantly disobeys orders and sneaks around … even steals things at certain points in the book. But it’s all to save an injured horse who has crossed over from the mirror world into her own.

The metaphors for death aren’t subtle but they are magical. This dark winged horse is threatening the injured Foxfire and if Emmaline can’t find some color in her gray world, the dark horse will win and all will be lost.

To say this is a happy book would be wrong, it’s quite dark. But there was hope, like a silver lining of a storm cloud, or a rainbow after a storm. It’s the childlike quality of searching for good in everything and smiling when no one else thinks it’s possible.

The resolution to keep going when everything is against you and to believe in magic is a quality I think is necessary to get by in the world today.

The historical elements of the story ground the reader even though there are fantastical parts. I’ve heard it compared to Chronicles of Narnia, and there are some similarities, but there is less fantasy in this book, and more childlike imagination.

The last chapter was one of my favorites. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say, keep reading after the last chapter. Read Shepherd’s notes at the end. I may have gotten more teary eyed in her notes and acknowledgements than the whole book combined. She gives the reader the freedom to choose how they think the book ends, and I think it’s lovely.

One of my favorite characters was the Horse Lord, even though we never meet him. He writes Emmaline letters and helps her to continue on through hard times. In one letter from him, he talks about how he knows she is angry at “the dark horse” but she needs to know everything has it’s place in life and we can fight or resist bad things, but we can’t blame dark things for fulfilling their purpose.

What an important message to children about death. Sure when we or others we know get sick, we fight it, but there is a season and a time for everything and to everything, a reason. This, is such a grown up message, expressed in a truly childlike way. My heartstrings were pulled.

The illustrations in the book were so sweet and her website for the book has printable coloring pages for readers to print off and she encourages readers to share the finished product with them.

I can see why this book is the book of Shepherd’s heart and why it steals/touches the hearts of so many who read it.

For more Marvelous Middle Grade reads, visit Shannon Messenger’s website.

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MMGM: THE MARVELS by Brian Selznick

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Title: THE MARVELS

Author: Brian Selznick

Publication Date: September 15, 2015

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Publisher’s Description:

Two seemingly unrelated stories–one in words, the other in pictures–come together. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle’s puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.

This is one of those books that I was looking forward to it coming out, and then it came out and my TBR list was so huge, it somehow got lost. But I am so glad I found it again, even if it was a year later.

Being a huge Brian Selznick fan, I wasn’t surprised that I loved this book. The way he made a name for himself doing what he loved and kind of inventing a new format for himself was amazing.

Selznick’s talent for using a picture to say a thousand words is truly enchanting. Even my younger boys with the shortest attention spans in the history of ever, will spend a lot of time examining each page and can tell me exactly what is going on in the story as they turn the pages. But they get to decipher the story in their own words with their unique thought processes and imaginations going into it, and that is what is so special about this.

Yes, the pictures show the history of the Marvels family and their rise to fame and the falls that also happen along the way, but each reader gets to put the words to it on their own and apply their own emotions and turn the page when they are done, not when the words tell them to.

Which isn’t a bad thing, either. I love words on a page, or I wouldn’t read them daily and talk about them almost as often. And Selznick excels at the prose portion of his story as well. The whole book, which is extremely large, but so beautiful (the gilded edges of the pages!), is full of images and words that help the reader to FEEL the story. We only know the brother for a few pages at the beginning but we are crushed when his brother buries him and we see the driftwood angel wings at the sides of his grave.

When we get to the prose section, we are in 1990 following a child, Joseph, as he runs away from boarding school and goes to spend some time with his uncle. Of course, the house his uncle lives in is steeped in history and there’s some sort of mystery begging to be solved. There’s a few mysteries actually, with a missing friend and the Marvels family as well. And Uncle Albert is eccentric and intriguing.

In the end, the thrilling conclusion returns to drawings, but stays in the present time and comes together in a tragic but magical and satisfying way that answers all of the questions Selznick presented.

The fact this story is partially founded on a true story of Dennis Severs is what makes it utterly irresistible. Dennis Severs is an American who moved to London and eventually bought an old home at 18 Folgate Street in London’s East End and turned it into a 3D story/museum filled with the lives of a fictional family he created named the Jervises. Severs passed away and the home is now owned by a preservation trust, but is open to visitors.

Uncle Albert’s character is based on Severs’ real life story, but the story of the Marvels is a fictional story, only inspired by Severs and his life.

This story promotes a love of art, books, and magic and is also LGBT friendly in a way that is not forced or over the top, just fits into the story perfectly.

For more middle grade reading recommendations go to Shannon Messenger’s Blog for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

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