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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I Am a Super Girl! (Princess Truly, book 1) by Kelly Greenawalt, illustrated by Amariah Rauscher

Published by Scholastic

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Image result for i am super girl kelly

Summary:  In this new entry in Scholastic’s Acorn books for early readers, Princess Truly uses her super powers to fix a ruined birthday cake and to rescue a dog and cat who have gotten tangled up in the birthday balloons and floated away.  Her cape, rocket boots, and magic curls allow her to fly and create things with her magic. She always uses her superpowers for good and encourages her friends to find their own powers. Readers who want more can look for Princess Truly’s two picture books and look forward to books 2 and 3 in this series, available in December and March.  48 pages; ages 4-6.

Pros:  Rhyming text and fun adventures make this a good choice for beginning readers.  As always, Scholastic seems to have a good sense of what kids love to read.

Cons:  I wish the majority of the Acorn and Branches books were not quite so gender stereotyped.  The sparkles, rainbows, and purple tulle throughout this book were just a little too sugary sweet.

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The Magic Mirror (Once Upon A Fairy Tale book 1) by Anna Staniszewski, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan

Published by Scholastic

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Summary:  There’s a heat wave hitting the kingdom, and when Kara and Zed intercept a message meant for the Ice Princess, they learn why: her magic mirror has been broken, and she can’t make winter happen without it.  The two kids go on a mission to help her, but when they get to the palace, they discover there’s more broken that just a mirror. Princess Aspen and her sister, Princess Sola, the Sun Princess, have had a falling-out, and it’s thrown the seasons out of whack.  It’s up to Kara and Zed to help them patch things up and get the climate back on track. Fortunately, like all good fairy tales, this one ends happily, although it looks like another adventure (The Stolen Slipper, due out in early December) awaits Kara and Zed.  96 pages; grades 1-3.

Pros:  The Scholastic Branches imprint has produced about two dozen different series, and they’re all popular with the early chapter book crowd (mostly grades 2-3 in my schools).  I have no doubt that this one will keep pace with the others, as the story was engaging almost from the start.

Cons:  The discovery of an unbroken piece of glass on the bottom of the princess’s shoe seemed a bit unlikely, even for a fairy tale.

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Unicorns 101 by Cale Atkinson

Published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

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Image result for unicorns 101

Summary:  Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about unicorns is presented in the style of a nonfiction science book.  Their scientific name is Betterthan horsicus, they weigh 40,000 gummy bears, and they poop cupcakes–which is why you’ll never see a unicorn at a bake sale.  In fact, it’s pretty rare to see one anywhere, because unicorns are masters of disguise. Readers get a few challenges to see if they can spot the unicorn in different illustrations.  They’ll also learn some unicorn history, different types of unicorns, and what the horn is made of (50% magic, 45% mystery, and 5% sugar). The reward comes on the last page, with the Unicornius Scientificus Diploma, showing complete knowledge of unicorn science.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  Any unicorn fan will love getting a chance to learn more about this magical creature.  The illustrations are colorful and eye-poppingly busy. There’s plenty of humor in both the text and pictures.  This could be a great writing prompt for kids to create their own “scientific” descriptions of other mythological animals.

Cons:  Although this could be a good way to introduce nonfiction text features, it could be confusing to kids trying to sort out the differences between fiction and nonfiction.

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Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir, illustrated by Sarah Andersen

Published by Ten Speed Press

Image result for cheshire crossing amazon

Image result for cheshire crossing amazon

Summary:  Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan’s Wendy have all been in and out of institutions, diagnosed with dissociative psychosis for believing they can travel to other worlds.  They wind up together in a research lab, where Dr. Rutherford hopes to learn more about their powers. Alice, angry over her years feeling like a prisoner, steals Dorothy’s silver slippers and escapes to Oz.  The other two go after her, along with their nanny (who may or may not be Mary Poppins), and before long they are dropping in and out of Oz, Neverland, and Wonderland in an attempt to foil the Queen of Hearts, Wicked Witch of the West, and Captain Hook (the last two have a budding romance in Neverland).  Everyone is reunited back in the lab in the end, but a last page hints that there may be a sequel. 128 pages; grades 7-10.

Pros:  There’s plenty of girl power with these three, as they refuse to let anyone control their destinies or overshadow them in their adventures.  The artwork is gorgeous, and it’s great fun to see elements of the three familiar stories woven together.

Cons:  I was hoping this would find a home in my grade 4 and 5 library, but the frequent swears and sexual innuendos (there’s a great subplot where Peter Pan grows up, Alice shrinks him, and he has a thing with Tinkerbell) make it more appropriate for middle school and up.

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This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Published by First Second

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Image result for this was our pact ryan andrews

Summary:  At the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, Nathaniel and his pals have agreed to follow the lanterns set afloat down the river.  Lots of kids ride along the river for awhile, but their group is going to find out once and for all where the lights end up. As they travel, though, the other kids turn back one by one until there are only two left: Nathaniel and Ben, the kid nobody likes who has been tagging along, unsuccessfully trying to join the group. Nathaniel begrudgingly agrees to travel with him, though, and the two end up on a madcap adventure where they meet a friendly bear on a quest, a tiny witch and her oversized dog, and some mysterious enlightened beings.  The two slowly bond over their shared experiences and narrow escapes, and by the end they’re still traveling, intent upon circumnavigating the world on their bicycles. 336 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A graphic novel that would appeal to fans of Amulet, with its episodic plot involving ordinary mortals thrust into a magical world.  The dark-blue-and-black illustrations perfectly capture the feeling of a nighttime adventure.  We can hope for more of Nathaniel’s and Ben’s escapades on the road.

Cons:  The plot was pretty meandering.

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Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

Published by Disney Hyperion

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Summary:  Sal is new at his Miami middle school, and right away he seems to have attracted the attention of bully Yasmany.  So Sal decides to play a trick on Yasmany: he reaches into another universe, pulls out a dead chicken, and puts it in Yasmany’s locker.  This prank gets him sent to the principal’s office, where he meets Gabi Real: a straight-A student, editor of the paper, president of the student council, and self-appointed counsel to defend Yasmany.  Sal and Gabi are both dealing with difficulties at home: Sal’s mom died several years ago, and Gabi’s baby brother Iggy is fighting for his life in the NICU. They become fast friends, Gabi admiring Sal’s sleight-of-hand magic skills and eventually learning about his abilities to manipulate parallel universes, which include occasional attempts to bring back his dead mother.  Much to their surprise, it turns out Gabi possesses a similar ability, and she and Sal must decide how to channel their powers for good, particularly when it comes to saving Iggy. 400 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  If the above description seems like a lot, trust me when I say that it only skims the surface of all that is in this book.  Did I mention Sal has diabetes? That the Cuban-American culture plays a big role in the story? That Gabi has at least ten dads?  That the story takes place in the near future, replete with artificial intelligence? This is easily the most fun book I’ve read this year, and I’m considering using it as the first selection for my fifth grade book club to suck unsuspecting 10-year-olds into a year of reading enjoyment.

Cons:  Seeing that this is part of the “Rick Riordan Presents” imprint, kids may be expecting more gods and monsters–this is a different kind of story, but I think it will still appeal to fans of Percy Jackson and other demigods.

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