Shuri: A Black Panther Novel by Nic Stone

Published by Scholastic

Shuri: A Black Panther Novel (Marvel) (1): Stone, Nic ...

Summary:  Princess Shuri, sister of T’Challa the Black Panther, is gifted in all things technological and wants to use her talents to help Wakanda.  She feels that her mother and brother don’t appreciate her and treat her like a child.  So when she discovers that the powerful heart-shaped herb is dying, then has a vision of an evil invading Wakanda, she feels compelled to act.  When her family doesn’t take her warnings seriously, Shuri takes matters into her own hands, escaping with her friend and protector K’Marah to travel to Kenya and London in search of assistance.  Their return to Wakanda coincides with the invasion, and Shuri is able to use some of her innovative technology to stop it and to show her family what she is capable of.  272 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  My experience with another middle grade Black Panther novel makes me pretty confident that this will be an easy sell.  It’s an action-packed ride with a strong, smart girl protagonist, and characters that may be familiar to readers from the movie or comic books.

Cons:  The queen seemed unnecessarily obnoxious to her daughter, not appreciating Shuri’s considerable gifts, and focusing too much on her clothes and social skills.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Mystwick School of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury

Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

The Mystwick School of Musicraft: Khoury, Jessica: 9781328625632 ...

Summary:  Amelia Jones has always dreamed of attending The Mystwick School of Musicraft where her late mother became a maestro.  Amelia is a flutist who has studied musicraft with some local teachers, but is ill-prepared for the big time and bungles her audition to the school.  She’s shocked a few weeks later when she gets an acceptance letter.  But when she arrives at Mystwick, she discovers the letter was an error–it was intended for a different Amelia Jones, a piano prodigy who died the previous summer under somewhat mysterious circumstances.  Our Amelia is about to be sent packing, when the teachers discover a nifty bit of magic she inadvertently performed on the school grounds.  They decide to give her two months to get her magic up to speed, at which time she’ll have to audition again to stay for good.  Amelia is determined to work hard, but when the ghost of the other Amelia Jones seems equally determined to see her fail, it becomes more and more difficult for her to believe that she really belongs at Mystwick.  368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Harry Potter fans will enjoy this fun tale of a school where kids learn to use their musical talents to do magic.  There are plenty of plot twists and supernatural events to keep kids turning the pages, and the end seems to make a sequel inevitable.  I enjoyed listening to the Audible version of this which is free, along with quite a few other books: check out their site for details.

Cons:  Granted, Amelia had plenty of reasons to doubt her talents, but I got tired of her constant “maybe I just don’t belong here” refrain.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

What We Found in the Corn Maze and How it Saved a Dragon by Henry Clark

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

What We Found in the Corn Maze and How It Saved a Dragon: Henry ...

Summary:  When Cal and his friend Drew see a bunch of coins walking toward a girl in their class named Modesty, they want to know more.  It seems as though Modesty is practicing magic, but when they get their hands on her book of spells, it’s not much.  They can make a few of the more mundane spells work for one minute at a time during five minutes of the day…or night, in a few cases.  What Cal wants most is to find a spell that will repair the expensive harvester he accidentally set on fire and to help save the family farm from the inventor who has found a way to create vegetables with a 3-D printer.  When a portal opens up into another world, the three kids find themselves in the midst of an effort to save that world from global cooling–with the help of a green-skinned kid librarian named Preface (Pre for short).  When Drew accidentally gets trapped in the other world, and Pre ends up back with Cal and Modesty, it’s up to the kids to save Drew, save the farm, and quite possibly save the world.  352 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Fun doesn’t begin to describe this madcap magic adventure with an intriguing parallel universe, clever wordplay, and a few zings about fake news, corrupt leaders, and climate change deniers.  The adventures and laughs never stop; this will be an easy book to promote for summer reading.

Cons:  I’d love to see more of Cal, Drew, Modesty, and Pre, but everything wrapped up so neatly, I fear there will be no sequel.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street by Lauren Oliver

Published by HarperCollins

The Magnificent Monsters of Cedar Street: Lauren Oliver ...

Summary:  Cordelia leads a happy, if somewhat sheltered life, with her father in a reimagined Victorian/Edwardian Boston, capturing and caring for monsters.  Her mother was also involved in this work until she disappeared in the jungles of Brazil.  When Cordelia wakes up one morning to find her father and most of the monsters gone, she finds herself on an unlikely journey to try to rescue them.  Assisted by an orphan named Gregory, whom she befriends after saving his zuppy (zombie puppy), and her ex-best friend Elizabeth, she travels to New York, Nova Scotia, and Worcester, attempting to track down her father and the monsters.  Along the way, she encounters cruel prejudice against monsters and some humans, and at last learns the fates of both of her parents.  She and her father are reunited, but realize that monsters are not meant to be kept in cages (or houses) and ultimately decide to let them go their own ways.  384 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  There’s plenty of adventure for Cordelia and her friends, as well as some interesting monsters, a couple of heartwarming friendship stories, and a timely message about valuing all forms of life.

Cons:  Try as I might, I never found this book as engaging as I was hoping (it got three starred reviews), and the message was repeated just a bit too often.

If you would like to order this book from the Odyssey Bookshop, click here.

Wild Honey from the Moon by Kenneth Kraegel

Published by Candlewick

Wild Honey from the Moon: Kraegel, Kenneth, Kraegel, Kenneth ...

Wild Honey from the Moon by Kenneth Kraegel, Hardcover | Barnes ...

Summary:  A mother shrew, concerned about her sick son, turns to a book of remedies and learns that his illness is very dangerous and can only be cured with a teaspoon of honey from the moon.  She sets off on a journey told in seven chapters that is filled with peril–an owl who wants to eat her, a herd of night mares, and a swarm of protective bees–and manages to defeat them all with grace and resourcefulness.  Returning home at last, she finds her son just waking up, and gives him the honey, which starts working its magic almost immediately. 64 pages; grades K-2.

Pros:  This adventurous, beautifully illustrated story could be read as either a picture book or an early chapter book.  The language has a slightly old-fashioned storytelling feel to it, and the mother shrew sets a high bar for maternal devotion everywhere.

Cons:  This is another 2019 book that I somehow overlooked last year.

If you would like to order this book from the Odyssey Bookshop, click here.

Bo’s Magical New Friend (Unicorn Diaries book 1) by Rebecca Elliott

Published by Scholastic 

Image result for bo's magical new friend amazon

Summary:  Meet Rainbow Tinseltail (better known as Bo) of Sparklegrove Forest, a unicorn who sports a rainbow mane and sneezes glitter.  Bo’s a wishing unicorn, which means they (Bo’s gender is never revealed) can grant one wish a week. When new unicorn Sunny pops into existence (that’s how it is with unicorns), Bo’s hoping he’ll become a new best friend (Sunny seems to be a boy).  The unicorns get a challenge to use their special magical powers, but Sunny doesn’t know what his is. Bo wants Sunny to make a wish to learn his power, so that Bo can grant the wish and win Sunny’s friendship. But that’s against the rules, and before long Bo and Sunny have gotten into a fight.  Fear not, there’s a happy ending for all, and a second book coming out in early March. 80 pages; grades 2-3.

Pros:  A new diary series about unicorns written and illustrated by the author of Owl Diaries? Better stock up on extra copies…this is sure to be a hit with the early-reading crowd.

Cons:  Keep a dose of insulin handy for this super-sweet dose of unicorn magic.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Image result for storm keepers island

Summary:  Fionn and his older sister Tara have been sent to the island of Arranmore to spend time with their grandfather while their mother is dealing with some mental health issues.  Tara has been to the island before and likes to lord her knowledge over Fionn; she often leaves him behind to spend time with her crush Bartley Beasley, who is searching for a secret cave.  As Fionn gets to know his grandfather, he discovers that he is the Storm Keeper, the overseer of the magic on the island. Granddad knows that his time in this role is coming to an end, and that the island is looking to find a new Storm Keeper.  As Fionn learns more about the magic, he starts to use it himself to travel through time and learn more about Arranmore’s secrets. The ending brings about the revelation of the new Storm Keeper and some healing in Fionn’s family, but there are plenty of unanswered questions to explore in book 2.  308 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A promising start to a fantasy series that ably combines magic and everyday life.  Lots of interesting characters and history have been introduced that will provide a good foundation for a sequel.

Cons:  As I was reviewing this book, I realized it was published in 2018.  Since I had to force myself to read it (generally the case with me and fantasy), this was something of a blow.  It looks like it was published in Great Britain in 2018 and in the U.S. in 2019, so that is something of a comfort to me.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

 

 

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Published by Aladdin

Image result for okay witch

Image result for okay witch

Summary:  Moth has always felt like she doesn’t belong in the small town of Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts.  Her mother grew up in the same town–only it turns out it was 300 years before Moth did. Moth learns near the beginning of the story that her mom was part of a group of witches that was driven out of town by God-fearing Puritans.  The witches escaped to a paradise called Hecate, but Moth’s mother was so unhappy there that she eventually returned to her hometown. Moth discovers her own magical powers over the course of the story, eventually meeting her grandmother and getting the chance to visit Hecate.  Although she learns to love being a witch, she and her mother both ultimately decide that they belong in Founder’s Bluff. As history begins to repeat itself, they find that their witchcraft comes in handy in making sure evil doesn’t return to their town. 272 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of graphic novels with spunky girl main characters (think Telgemeier, Jamieson, Holm, and Hale) will enjoy this story which has a little magic and witchcraft thrown in.  

Cons:  Guess I like my graphic novels to stay in the realm of realistic fiction; I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the aforementioned authors. 

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

Image result for scary stories for young foxes

Summary:  A brave group of seven kits ventures into a nearby den to hear what their mother has warned them will be the scariest story ever.  A mysterious storyteller begins with a story about a kit named Mia whose brothers and sisters contract a disease that turns them mad.  It’s pretty scary, and at the end of it, one of the kits decides to leave. The next story is about a kit named Uly who only has three paws, and who is terrorized by a fox named Mr. Scratch–who turns out to be his father.  That drives another kit from the den. And so it goes, with the stories of Mia and Uly eventually intersecting as they manage to escape from one harrowing situation after another. By the end, only the littlest kit is left. When she and the storyteller start talking, their identities are revealed, which neatly ties up the book with an unexpectedly happy ending.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  The scare level is just right for elementary kids, and animal lovers will enjoy it as well.  It’s a pretty long shot, but this book is so unique and so well-written, it would be fun to see it get some Newbery recognition.

Cons:  Beatrix Potter fans might want to skip the story entitled “House of Trix”. 

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

The Quest for the Golden Fleas (Zeus the Mighty, Book 1) by Crispin Boyer

Published by Under the Stars (imprint of National Geographic)

Image result for quest for the golden fleas

Summary:  Zeus the hamster lives with his friends Demeter (grasshopper), Athena (cat), and Ares (pug) at the Mount Olympus Pet Center.  Artie is the human who runs the center, but when she’s not around, the animals live a secret life, re-enacting the myths they hear on Artie’s  “Greeking Out” podcast.  When Zeus hears the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, he hears it as Golden Fleas, and becomes determined to go on a quest for the Fleas. But when a dragon (lizard) gets loose in the pet shop, it seems as the Demeter and her insect pals may be in danger.  Zeus has to choose between his quest and helping his friend. It’s one adventure after another as the animals survive dangers and learn the true meaning of friendship. Includes additional information on Greek mythology and the gods and goddesses referenced in the story.  187 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Combining Greek mythology with a bunch of lovable pets is sure to be a winning formula for elementary readers.  Lots of illustrations add to the appeal. Look for book 2 coming in May 2020.

Cons:  Zeus isn’t exactly the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.