October 19, 2017

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Middle Grade Standalones and Sequels from Favorite Authors | SLJ Spotlight

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Several authors with previous hits have new books coming out, including Cassie Beasley’s Tumble & Blue, Cressida Cowell’s The Wizards of Once, and Kate Messner’s The Exact Location of Home, all of which stand alone from their previous works. Fans of Megan Frazier Blakemore, Bruce Coville, Chris Grabenstein, George Hagen, Ron McGee, Ridley Pearson, and Dave Rudden will be happy to read these sequels in ongoing, popular series.

redstarBeasley, Cassie. Tumble & Blue. 400p. Dial. Aug. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525428442.

Gr 4-6 –An immersive, supernatural middle grade adventure. Hear the whispers of long-kept family secrets in shadowed corners. Feel the humidity of a languid Georgia summer. Beasley, author of Circus Mirandus, weaves the tale of two tweens spending the summer looking for the way out of an ancestral curse. In 1817, 12-year-old Blue Montgomery’s forebear Walcott (a fugitive horse thief) and Tumble Wilson’s ancestor Almira (a “murderous young bride”) were forced—by violence—to split the mysterious gift of changing one’s fate, which they obtained from the fabled golden gator, deep in the Okefenokee Swamp at the rising of a bloodred moon. Both sought to escape the consequences of their crimes, but legend says that the golden gator’s gift is meant for only one. “Those are the rules, and they can be terribly sharp when broken.” Ever after, subsequent generations in both families were struck indiscriminately with either good or bad luck. A chance to fight the gator for his gift comes only once every 100 years when the moon runs red. Now, as the time draws near again two centuries later, Tumble and Blue must reverse the curse if there’s to be any hope of normal lives for them both. Beasley’s shimmering prose pulls readers in, line by line, like a fish dragging on a hook through swampy waters. The lush setting and lustrous portrayal of the characters will captivate even the most reluctant reader. VERDICT Middle graders will delight in the richly drawn world and history that Beasley creates. A first purchase for most collections.–Chelsea Woods, New Brunswick Free Public Library, NJ

Blakemore, Megan Frazer. The Daybreak Bond. 336p. Bloomsbury. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781681194790.

Gr 4-6 –The Firefly Five are back and on an adventure of a lifetime. This sequel begins with Ilana, Julia, Benji, Theo, and narrator Mori as they leave their utopian town of Old Harmonie to seek out Dr. Agatha Varden, one of the town’s founders. The Five believe Dr. Varden can help them understand their world in ways that have been shielded from them in their protected bubble. As they venture beyond the safety of the town limits, they encounter evidence that the pristine Old Harmonie is built upon the suffering of others. The Five soon meet some of these less fortunate others: a ragtag group of kids stricken by poverty and health issues. But what they lack in privilege, they make up for in bravery as they join the team to find answers. Readers with a passion for environmentalism and economic equality will be enthralled by this title that explores the impact of a world whose unrestrained consumption has harsh effects on others. As with its predecessor, the dialogue-heavy exposition sometimes comes at the cost of sustaining suspense, but many readers will enjoy the casual conversations among the loyal friends. VERDICT A satisfying, thrilling sequel to The Firefly Code that builds on themes of environmentalism and friendship. Purchase where the previous volume is popular.–Anna Murphy, Berkeley Carroll School, Brooklyn

Coville, Bruce. Trolled. 288p. (Enchanted Files: Bk. 3). Random. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385392600.

Gr 4-6 –Imagine gazing up nine feet into the face of a horrifically ugly, wart-filled being who loves smelling his own foot odor and enjoys hearing and breathing putrid, thundering farts! Meet Ned, a troll—complete with royal bloodlines to prove it. Unlike his kinfolk, Ned has been living among humans in the underground caverns of the New York City subway system for hundreds of years. A night watchman for Grand Central Station, he is befriended by Cody, his boss’s son, who thinks that Ned is intriguing. As part of a school assignment, Cody interviews Ned and Ned’s grandmother and quickly begins to discover unimaginable secrets while also learning more about himself. Cody’s adventure takes him deep into Troll Mountain to defeat the troll king, save his great-grandfather, and find Ned’s true love. This third volume in Coville’s “Enchanted Files” series twists tradition to create a modern fairy tale. This book has parallels with others in the series, with the introduction of two new heroic outcasts for whom readers will cheer. Coville shifts perspectives between lonely but bighearted Ned and Cody, who seems to live in an imaginary world. The narrative, told through diary entries, letters, and emails, can be difficult to follow at times as it toggles between two different stories. However, the overlapping plots result in fireworks for careful readers, as new information is constantly uncovered, forcing them to ponder potential connections. VERDICT Science fiction master Coville combines classic tropes with ample humor and an inspired narrative for a magic yet realistic modern fairy tale. A strong purchase for any middle grade collection, especially where the other installments in the series have been popular.–Mary-Brook J. Townsend, Episcopal Collegiate School, Little Rock, AR

Cowell, Cressida. The Wizards of Once. illus. by Cressida Cowell. 384p. Little, Brown. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316508339. POP

Gr 4-6 –Readers of “How To Train Your Dragon” will be ecstatic to get their hands on this first volume in Cowell’s new series. Thirteen-year-olds Xar (a wizard prince whose magic hasn’t kicked in yet) and Wish (a warrior princess who is anything but warriorlike) meet in the wildwood as enemies. When they discover the return of witches, thought to be extinct, they must rise above the prejudices of their parents and work together to fight the bad magic. Cowell crafts two believable and lovable main characters, each with their own story arc, who change just enough in this installment so that readers will want to follow them in upcoming entries. Kids will snicker at the creative swearing (“By mistletoe and leafmould and the ginger sideburns of the Great Grim Ogre”) and delight in fantastical details, such as traveling by door. The author’s hallmark sketches are sprinkled throughout, and full-page illustrations every few pages of text will help younger readers make it through this hefty tome. While this is a less emotionally compelling and original tale than Cowell’s previous work, the author’s fans will be quite satisfied with this fast-paced novel. VERDICT A strong new series starter by a best-selling author; buy multiple copies wherever ­possible.–Hillary Perelyubskiy, Los Angeles Public Library

Grabenstein, Chris. Mr. Lemoncello’s Great Library Race. 288p. Random. Oct. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780553536065. POP

Gr 3-6 –Eccentric billionaire game maker Luigi Lemoncello is back with all-new games and contraptions. In his ultramodern, high-tech library, Lemoncello unveils his newest creation, the Nonfictionator, which is capable of generating historical holograms, including Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt, who then converse with library patrons. Kyle Keeley, Akimi, and the other young contestants are back in this third installment facing their greatest challenge yet—the Great Library Race. Teams of contestants must travel by bookmobile and Mr. Lemoncello’s private jet as they discover clues about historical figures such as Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers. When Kyle’s team unearths evidence that suggests that the title character is a fraud who stole the ideas for his blockbuster games, it is up to the young sleuths to learn the truth before Lemoncello’s empire and library are ruined. Lemoncello’s nemesis game rivals, the Krinkle brothers, along with a slew of other nefarious characters, try to mastermind an evil takeover. Fans will embrace this new entry, which, like the previous books, features lightning-fast pacing and zany plotlines. Educators will be pleased by the emphasis on careful research and fact-checking. VERDICT Chock-full of literary references, this title will have readers racing to pick up the next volume in this popular series.–Michele Shaw, Quail Run Elementary School, San Ramon, CA

Hagen, George. Gabriel Finley and the Lord of Air and Darkness. 288p. Random. Sept. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399553486.

Gr 4-6 –Secrets abound in the Finley household: Where did Gabriel Finley’s mother disappear to, and why won’t his father tell him? Who is the father of Gabriel’s close friend Abby, who lives in Gabriel’s house along with her cross mother, who won’t tell Abby anything? It’s up to Gabriel and his three brave and loyal friends—Abby, Pamela, and Somes—to find the answers and save the world from the evil demon Corax. In this follow-up to Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle, characters both human and raven solve potentially life-and-death puzzles. Gabriel and his friends travel to the Underworld below New York City to free Gabriel’s mother, and encounter danger, such as the wicked “valravens,” who seek to free Corax from the imprisonment Gabriel and his friends unwittingly imposed and who try to exact revenge. VERDICT Full of mystery, intriguing riddles, and magic, this sequel enchants readers from beginning to end. Purchase where the first installment has fans.–Kathy Kirchoefer, ­Henderson County Public Library, NC

McGee, Ron. Ryan Quinn and the Lion’s Claw. illus. by Chris Samnee. 352p. HarperCollins. Oct. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062421692.

Gr 4-6 –In this second installment, the intrepid Ryan Quinn knows something is going on with the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC), the organization that his parents work for. He also knows that his parents are hiding something from him. When a stranger, Lawrence, shows up one night in his house, claiming that his friend and music partner, Nadia, was kidnapped, Ryan gets down to business. His parents are away on other ERC business in Chicago, so Ryan and his friend Danny decide to make themselves honorary members of the ERC by sneaking onto the plane that is taking Nadia to Africa. While trying to save the two musicians, Ryan courageously treks through dangerous but scenic routes in Lovanda and sees firsthand the political unrest there. He also discovers the big secret about his past that his parents have concealed. Meanwhile, his other friend Kasey helps hunt down the traitor who is selling the identities of the ERC rescues. The characters are flat, and there is more telling than showing, but this is a quick, plot-oriented read. VERDICT An action-packed adventure that reads almost like a screenplay and should find a place in most collections. This will keep ­reluctant readers in suspense, especially those who enjoyed the first title.–Rachel ­Reinwald, Lake Villa District Library, IL

redstarMessner, Kate. The Exact Location of Home. 224p. Bloomsbury. Oct. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781681195483.

Gr 5-7 –Thirteen-year-old science and electronics enthusiast Zig hasn’t had a visit from his father in more than a year. Zig’s mother won’t explain why, so he begins looking for clues in local geocaches. Meanwhile, Zig’s mother fails to pay the rent and they move into a homeless shelter after a short stay with Zig’s aunt Becka, who lives with an abusive husband. Messner describes the mundane details of hard realities. The shelter is perfectly safe, but there are no school supplies. Zig shows up for his school’s free breakfast and finds out that his friend Ruby regularly attends. His teacher lectures the class about “the less fortunate,” as if poverty and homelessness are issues that no child she knows has to handle. The author offers realistic but hopeful resolutions to many of Zig’s problems. The geocache trail doesn’t locate Zig’s father, but it does lead to a job for his mother. Aunt Becka doesn’t leave her husband, but she knows that Zig’s mother is there for support. There is no question that life will bring problems, but it’s just as certain that friends and family can help. Vivid characters and situations, along with clear, simple writing and plotting, make this an accessible and enlightening read. VERDICT A gentle but truthful look at poverty and homelessness for fans of realistic middle grade novels, such as Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now and Messner’s The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z., in which Zig is a secondary character.–Lisa Goldstein, Brooklyn Public Library

Pearson, Ridley. The Downward Spiral. 432p. (Lock and Key: Bk. 2). HarperCollins. Oct. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062399045.

Gr 4-6 –This sequel begins where the first book, The Initiation, ended: with the death of the elder James Moriarty, father of Moira and James. Sherlock Holmes is James’s roommate at Baskerville Academy. Sherlock, Moira, and James believe that Mr. Moriarty’s death was no accident. Who is responsible, and why? In the first installment, young James was initiated into a secret society, the Scowerers, that his father had led. In this follow-up, he discovers a rival secret society. Both are determined to uncover the shady dealings of Mr. Moriarty and to take over his vast international holdings. The three young sleuths attempt to decipher the clues surrounding the network while trying to avoid the threats the gangs pose. Pearson provides a nonstop stream of undercover work, thievery, ciphers, and violence that is the stuff of nightmares. On a lighter note, there is a tender romance between the cold-tempered James and a fellow student, Alexis. Meanwhile, Moira is attracted to Sherlock, who reciprocates. Readers are left with questions concerning the mysterious disappearance of Mrs. Moriarty, and James is implicated in murders of his own. While Sherlock learns the identity of Mr. Moriarty’s killer, he will need proof to make the case. It will take another volume to complete this tale. Holmes’s powerful intellect is fully at work in this rousing story of greed and mayhem. VERDICT A fine option for kids who like action-packed mysteries. A must-have where the author is popular.–Lillian Hecker, Town of Pelham Public Library, NY

Rudden, Dave. The Forever Court. 432p. (Knights of the Borrowed Dark: Bk. 2). Random. Aug. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780553523010.

Gr 5-8 –The second volume in the trilogy picks up with 13-year-old hero Denizen Hardwick visiting the court of the Endless King. The King would like to thank Denizen for his heroic endeavors, which saved his daughter in the previous book. It’s especially monumental that Denizen accomplished this feat since he has only just learned of his special powers and knightly prowess. Growing stronger in his newfound ability, he has become part of a family in the motley crew of knights who are also in training. Denizen’s mom gives the knights a strict education. He questions why his mother chose to avenge his father’s death, abandon her son, and allow Denizen to believe he was an orphan (he recently realized that she is still alive). The narrative echoes the first title with its engaging mix of fantasy, suspense, strange creatures, and courtly drama. A violent battle ensues with members of the Forever Court, and an interesting wrinkle is introduced when the knights discover another order of warriors—the Croits. Unlike Denizen and his cohorts, the Croits support the dark and will stop at nothing to bring shadows back to power. VERDICT An absorbing continuation of an epic tale of knights, odd creatures, and battles between good and evil. Hand to fans of John Flanagan’s “Ranger’s Apprentice” series.–Julie Shatterly, W.A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC

This article was published in School Library Journal's July 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Kiera Parrott About Kiera Parrott

Kiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian. Her favorite books are ones that make her cry—or snort—on public transportation.

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