The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle

Published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

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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.

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The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Published by Aladdin

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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. 

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Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christian McKay Heidicker

Published by Henry Holt and Co.

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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”. 

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

Published by Under the Stars (imprint of National Geographic)

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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.

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Lalani of the Distant Sea by Erin Entrada Kelly

Published by Greenwillow

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Summary:  Lalani lives in a village suffering under a drought.  She takes a trip up the forbidden mountain near the village, and meets a strange man there who grants her wish for rain.  Unfortunately, he causes the rain to fall without ceasing, and when flooding begins, the villagers blame Lalani. Meanwhile, her mother has fallen ill with mender’s disease, an illness that is nearly always fatal.  Lalani decides to travel over the sea to the fabled land of Isa. Many men from her village have sailed away in search of this land, but have never returned. Her voyage turns out to be perilous, but she is kind to all the strange creatures she meets, and they help her get the help she’s seeking.  Her friends at home take care of some difficult situations there, so that everyone is reunited for a happily-ever-after ending. 400 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I wouldn’t be surprised to see this win the Newbery medal or honor.  It’s a beautifully written book with amazing world building that is based on Filipino folklore.  There are many interesting characters (human and otherwise), settings, and legends that fans of folklore-inspired fantasy are sure to love.

Cons:  While I can appreciate the mastery at work here, this genre is just not my cup of tea, so I really had to push through to the end.  If you liked The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill or Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, you will undoubtedly love this.  If you didn’t, come sit next to me.

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Black Canary: Ignite by Meg Cabot, illustrated by Cara McGhee

Published by DC Zoom

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Summary:  Dinah Lance is your typical middle school girl: as the story opens, she and her two best friends are looking forward to competing in the Battle of the Bands, she’s prepping for cheerleader tryouts, and she dreams of becoming a police officer in Gotham City like her dad.  But things keep breaking at school–big things, like a glass trophy case–and Dinah seems to be the common element, even though she knows she’s not doing anything intentionally. As the story unfolds, Dinah learns that her mom used to be superhero Black Canary, and it appears that Dinah has inherited her superpower voice.  Bonfire, the villain her mom put in jail years ago, has escaped, and it’s up to Dinah to put her behind bars again. It all comes together at the Battle of the Bands, and by the last page it looks like Dinah’s future–as a crime fighter and a rocker–is assured. 144 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I did not know that DC had a character called Black Canary.  But this spiffy little graphic novel gave me a good introduction, and sent me seeking more information.  Meg Cabot is a master of the middle school story, and does an excellent job, not only with Dinah, but with her friends Kat and Vee.  The artwork is colorful and captures the action perfectly.  

Cons:  There’s a lot of ground to cover in 144 pages, and the climactic showdown between Black Canary and Bonfire wrapped up a little too quickly.

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Archimancy (Shadow School, book 1) by J. A. White

Published by Katherine Tegen Books

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Summary:  Cordelia’s not happy with her family’s move from sunny California to cold and snowy New Hampshire.  Her new middle school, Shadow School, is unusually elegant but seems to have a few dark secrets dating back to the time of its founder, Elijah Z. Shadow.  When Cordelia realizes that she is seeing ghosts that others can’t see, she is pretty freaked out. New friends Agnes and Benji (the only other kid in the school who can see ghosts) soon come to her aid, and as the year goes on, Cordelia slowly begins to feel more comfortable at her new school.  The three kids work to understand the ghosts and unlock some of the more dangerous mysteries hidden within their school. They manage to dispense with the main ones, but the ending and the fact that this is book 1 make a sequel seem inevitable. 304 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  A fun blend of spooky ghost story, mystery, and friendship story that will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Cons:  Although there was plenty of mystery and suspense, this wasn’t as scary as some kids might wish it were.

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