Dragons In a Bag by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B.

Published by Random House

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Summary:  Jaxon’s not happy when Mama has to go to court to fight their eviction and drops him off with a strange and somewhat unfriendly older woman.  He can’t help but feel curious, though, when she receives a mysterious package from Madagascar that seems to contain something alive. Before long, he learns that the woman, Ma, is a witch with a long-term connection to his mother that Jax never knew about.  He gets drawn into a fascinating world of magic, meeting an unusual cast of characters that includes his long-lost grandfather, and finds out that Ma’s mysterious package contains three tiny dragons. When he and Ma travel back in time, though, things start to go wrong, and Jaxon fears he may have ruined everything.  By the time Mama returns, he’s found a way to begin to fix his mistakes and has agreed to become Ma’s apprentice. His mother isn’t thrilled with this turn of events, but an invitation from Ma to move in with her sets the stage for an interesting sequel. 160 pages; grades 3-6.

Pros:  This would make a good first fantasy book–the magic is fairly straightforward and the book is fairly short with quite a few illustrations.  Kids will relate to Jaxon as he tries to figure out the strange circumstances he is thrust into, and will be curious to find out what happens to him and his new dragon friends.

Cons:  It felt like the story was just getting going toward the end; here’s hoping the sequel will be out soon.

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Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure by Torben Kuhlmann

Published by NorthSouth Books

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Summary:  The Professor teaches at the University of Mice, located behind the shelves of a bookstore.  One day, a new student named Pete approaches him with a request for help in finding out more about an ancestor who supposedly lost a treasure at sea.  It’s unclear whether or not the ancestor went down as well. The Professor is reluctant to help much at first, but when he discovers Pete experimenting with a submarine, he gets caught up in the adventure.  After many trials and occasional missteps, the two of them manage to create a sub and two diving suits. Hitching a ride on a cargo ship, they travel to the spot where the sunken boat lies. They’re able to launch their submarine and go aboard the ship, where they discover the treasure–Pete’s ancestor’s journal.  They learn that he created the light bulb, then managed to get to America where he was able to share his plans with Thomas Alva Edison. And the rest is history–for both mice and humans. Includes historical facts about the history of the light bulb and Edison. 112 pages; grades K-4.

Pros:  I’ve somehow missed Kuhlmann’s other books on famous mice (Lindbergh and Armstrong), but was enchanted with this book, particularly the illustrations.  The details of the mouse world and their creations are amazing, and the hard work and serendipity required to come up with a successful invention are well documented.  This would be a great read-aloud, allowing plenty of time to take in all the artwork.

Cons:  The story and writing aren’t as strong as the illustrations.

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Stealing the Sword (Time Jumpers) by Wendy Mass, illustrated by Oriol Vidal

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  Chase and Ava are at a flea market with their parents when they discover a mysterious suitcase.  The woman who sells it to them acts kind of odd, and when they buy it, a man chases after them to try to get it back for himself.  Inside are several artifacts, including what they think is a dragon doorknob. It leads them back through time to Camelot, where they meet up with Merlin and discover that Arthur is in danger.  Turns out the dragon is no ordinary doorknob, but actually the hilt of Excalibur. The two children prove instrumental in reuniting the sword and its hilt just in time to save the king. The man from the flea market shows up again, still after his suitcase, but the kids manage to elude him and return to the present.  The other artifacts in the suitcase, as well as the pictures on the back cover, assure readers that there will be at least three more books in this series. 96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  There’s plenty of action in this latest entry from the Scholastic Branches imprint.  Fans of The Magic Tree House may find this a fun series to try for a change of pace; it’s right around the same reading level.  The Branches books always find a ready audience in my libraries.

Cons:  As much as I love Wendy Mass and want to praise everything she does, this is a little too close to The Magic Tree House.  A bookish brother and his slightly younger adventurous sister travel back in time.  Seems like Scholastic could have tried a bit harder for originality.

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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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