Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

Published by Disney-Hyperion

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Summary:  Aru Shah lives with her mother, director of the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture.  Aru has a hard time fitting in at school, so when three somewhat nasty kids from her class show up at the museum on a vacation day, Aru can’t help showing off.  She lights a lamp her mother has warned her never to touch, and unleashes the Sleeper, an evil being who freezes time for everyone around Aru. To undo the spell, Aru is sent on a mission, where she learns that she is a reincarnation of one of the Pandava brothers from Indian mythology.  She meets up with Mini, a girl who is also one of the Pandava, and together they manage to defeat a large number of monsters and other mythological beings to fulfill their quest. It’s clearly not over at the end, though; two mysterious new kids are introduced, and it looks like Aru will be off on another adventure in April 2019.  Includes an extensive glossary of Indian mythology. 368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This is the first book in the new Rick Riordan Presents imprint of Disney-Hyperion (the next two, on Korean and Mayan mythology, are due out in September).  The format is similar to Riordan’s books, with a misfit protagonist who discovers her demigod status and has a string of adventures with mythological creatures.  It’s sure to be a hit with Riordan’s legion of fans.

Cons:  Having no background in Indian mythology, I struggled to keep track of the many different characters and their relationships with one another.

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The Creature of the Pines (The Unicorn Rescue Society, book 1) by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly

Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers

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Summary:  From the team that brought you The Inquisitor’s Tale comes this new series for the early chapter book crowd.  Elliot Eisner is bummed to be starting school three weeks into the school year.  That ends up being the least of his concerns after he meets a girl named Uchenna.  The two of them get paired up on what turns out to be the weirdest field trip he has ever been on.  Their class travels to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens with their chronically flustered teacher Miss Vole and the strange and perpetually grumpy Professor Fauna.  They wind up rescuing a small dragon-like creature that turns out to be a Jersey Devil.  After they return to school, the creature gets loose and ends up in the home of the evil billionaire Schmoke brothers.  Elliott and Uchenna are forced to seek out Professor Fauna for help.  The rescue complete, he invites them to join the top secret Unicorn Rescue Society, setting the stage for more escapades with mythical creatures in the next books of the series.  192 pages; grades 3-5.

Pros:  A unique and promising start to a new series, with plenty of deadpan humor, one-of-a-kind characters, and magic action.  Short chapters, a fast pace, and plenty of illustrations will appeal to reluctant readers.

Cons:  As a New Jersey native, I would have appreciated some back matter about the Jersey Devil.

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The Last (Endling book 1) by Katherine Applegate

Published by HarperCollins

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Summary:  Byx is part of a small pack of dairnes, dog-like creatures prized for their soft fur and hunted almost to extinction.  One day she goes off from the pack by herself and ends up rescuing a small creature called a wobbyk, whose name is Tobble.  During her absence, humans come and slaughter the rest of the dairne pack leaving Byx alone and possibly the only one left of her species.  Heartbroken and with no other options, she ends up traveling with Tobble, a human girl (disguised as a boy) named Khara and her horse, Vallino, as well as a felivet (a huge catlike creature) named Gambler.  This unlikely band travels through the city of the cruel Murdano, the human ruler who has ordered the death of the dairnes and who may be trying to extinguish felivets as well.  Their journey ends in the far north, where Byx glimpses a floating island that may or may not house another dairne pack.  Their destiny is uncertain at the end of book #1, but this motley band of travelers knows that they have become a family.  400 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  I might as well confess here, I’m not much of a fantasy fan, but I willed myself to tackle this 400 page book because it’s gotten excellent reviews, and I enjoyed Katherine Applegate’s book trailer about it.  It was worth the push, with beautiful writing and exquisite illustrations (I wish there were more).  True fantasy fans will love the unique characters and non-stop adventure, and will be anxiously awaiting book 2.

Cons:  With a couple of notable exceptions, humans don’t come off too well.  You may find yourself wishing you were a dairne, a wobbyk, or a felivet.

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Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, illustrated by Nicholas Gannon

Published by Feiwel and Friends

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Summary:  Livy is visiting her Australian grandmother for the first time since she was five.  Bob has been waiting in the closet since Livy told him to five years ago.  Livy has forgotten all about Bob, but as they spend time together, gradually her memories return.  As a five-year-old, she thought Bob was a zombie, but now she doesn’t know what he is.  Adults can’t see Bob, and Livy starts to forget him as soon as she’s away from him.  As the two of them reconstruct what happened the last time Livy visited, they slowly begin to uncover the truth of Bob’s origins, and his importance to Livy and to the drought-stricken community where her grandmother lives.  208 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  When I heard of a collaboration between Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, I could scarcely contain my glee.  Although this book is shorter and different from their previous work, it is still a masterpiece of storytelling that will appeal to a wide age range, starting as a read-aloud for primary grades.

Cons:  It would have been nice to have more illustrations.

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The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown

Published by Little Brown

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Summary:  When we last saw Roz, she had been captured and was in pieces, flying away from her beloved island and her goose son, Brightbill.  As the curtain rises on Act 2, Roz is being delivered to Hilltop Farm, where she is assigned care of the cows and other farm chores.  Being Roz, she soon bonds with the cows, as well as with Jaya and Jad, the two children who live on the farm.  But she is homesick for her island home, and as she goes about her farm work, she thinks about how she can get back there.  Eventually, the two children find out about her past; although they have come to love, her, they know she belongs on the island and they help with her escape.  Leaving the farm is only the beginning; on her journey to the island, Roz deals with vengeful wolves, rivers to cross, and the RECO robots who captured her in the first book.  After nearly being destroyed once again, she ends up in the lab of Dr. Molovo, the scientist who designed her.  Dr. Molovo realizes Roz belongs back on the island; after giving her a new body, the doctor takes her home, and the story ends with, “The wild robot was back where she belonged.”  288 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  Roz’s fans will not be disappointed with this sequel.  As much as I enjoyed the original, I thought this one was even better, and a voracious third grade reader recently agreed with me.  To quote Peter Brown, the story is “filled with heart and soul and action and science and even a little philosophy.”  Although the Newbery trend of late does not seem to favor books like this, I would love to see this one win award or two.

Cons:  The happily ever after ending probably means there won’t be a third book.

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Princess Pulverizer: Grilled Cheese and Dragons by Nancy Krulik, art by Ben Balistrer

Published by Penguin Workshop

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Summary:  Princess Serena is struggling at princess school, so she decides to change her name to Princess Pulverizer and convince her father, the king, to send her to knight school.  He agrees, on one condition: she has to go on a Quest of Kindness, performing eight good deeds, and bringing back proof of each one.  So the princess sets off, and almost immediately hears about some stolen jewels that she is sure must have been taken by an ogre.  She succeeds in getting herself get captured by the monster, and does in fact find the jewels, but is unable to figure out how to escape the locked tower to return them to their rightful owner.  A knight school dropout named Lucas and his gassy dragon Dribble try to come to her rescue, but they have problems of their own.  In the end, the three of them combine their talents to pull off the good deed, and the princess is ready to move on to her next adventure as part of a team.  144 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  Fans of The Princess in Black, the Hamster Princess, and Princess Pink will be happy to find a new princess series with some fun twists to the traditional genre.

Cons:  The Princess in Black is still my favorite.

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Granted by John David Anderson

Published by Walden Pond Press

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Summary:  Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets is a fairy who has been trained to grant wishes.  Problem is, the sense of wonder in the human world is dropping off, creating a shortage of the fairy dust required to make wishes come true.  So Ophelia’s been biding her time since her training ended, fastidiously keeping up her skills until it’s her turn to visit the human world.  Her chance comes at last, and she ventures forth to retrieve a nickel a girl tossed into a fountain, wishing for a purple bicycle.  Sounds easy enough, but Ophelia’s best-laid plans are foiled at every turn, and she has to deal with airplanes, fire extinguishers, birds of prey, and a not-too-bright dog named Sam who thinks he’s her new best friend.  Ophelia’s also distracted by a boy named Gabe whose path keeps crossing hers and who seems to have a wish far more compelling than a purple bicycle.  When Ophelia is forced to choose between her original mission and Gabe’s wish, she shakes the fairy world to its very core.  Can there be a happily-ever-after ending for both fairies and humans?  336 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  John David Anderson moves away from realistic fiction to create a detailed imaginary fairy world and a funny, slightly neurotic fairy heroine.  Readers will find themselves thinking twice before pulling on a wishbone or tossing a coin into a fountain.

Cons:  The story didn’t really pick up for me until Ophelia left her fairy home and ventured into the human world.

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