Having read a handful of Roy’s A-Z Mysteries, this book was in familiar territory, since the mains are the younger siblings of his previous series. April Adventure is a decidedly lower middle grade storyline involving a seasonal quest. Basically an Easter scavenger hunt. Clementine is one of those children who sees the world a little differently than everyone else. You could call her artistic. You could call her trouble. Both really do apply. A lower middle grade chapter book with strong family themes. I came away loving Clementine’s parents. In Cool, after an accident, Robbie’s stuck in a coma. He can hear everyone around him, reacting and responding in his own thoughts, but he can’t figure out how to wake up. His family and his doctors try everything they can think of to guide him safely back.
In Song for a Whale, Iris learns about a lonely whale in science class, and she can relate. Blue 55 can’t communicate with other whales because he can’t understand their songs. Iris is deaf, so she misses out on all the conversations happening around her. But she has a plan. Iris composes a song for Blue 55 so he’ll know he isn’t alone. Estranged is the first in a graphic novel duology. A boy who was swapped in the cradle with a changing has grown up in the underground world of the fae, known only as “the Human Childe.” But when his adoptive parents are attacked, he can only think of one place to turn for help. To the changeling who’s living his life in the human world. Explorer: The Mystery Boxes includes seven short stories in comic format, each playing off the group’s theme: mystery boxes. A fun middle grade anthology that gives readers a sampling from several different storytellers, each with unique art and tale-spinning styles.
The Wooden Prince is Pinocchio re-imagined. He’s a construct of wood and gears, a robot servant in the palace of the doge. But suddenly he has ideas of his own and a person to find: an alchemist named Geppetto. Fascinating world-building. Steampunk and alchemy, with a island where “half-beasts” and elementals live under the peaceful reign of a benevolent eternal. Lots to discover and action aplenty. In Den of the White Fox, Zenta and Matsuzo travel into a valley where people believe in legends of a trickster fox. In order to help the young woman who offers them shelter, the two ronin seek to unravel a mystery involving several thefts. A (much-welcomed) final story from Namioka, which was probably not included in the main series simply because it’s shorter than the previous books. Jinx’s Fire is the final installment in the Jinx trilogy. He may not be the most tactful boy in the Urwald, but he’s certainly the most powerful. But he can’t end a war and save a friend without help. Complex, unique, and very satisfying to my curmudgeon-loving soul.
In The Owls have Come to Take Us Away, Simon is intrigued by aliens and the conspiracies surrounding them. When his family leaves the air force base that they call home to camp in the woods, something strange happens in the woods. Simon is sure he’s been abducted by aliens. Getting someone to believe him is tough. I’d call this a psychological thriller, middle grade style. The Isle of the Lost is a fairy tale remix set after the events of all the Disney movies, during an era when King Beast and Queen Belle rule over all the kingdoms and the villains (and their assorted minions) have long been banished to the Isle of the Lost, where they have no access to magic. Words of Stone was kind of … literary? Blaze is a fearful boy facing big changes. Joselle is an angry girl looking to alleviate her boredom by picking on the aforementioned fearful boy. Which inspires a fragile kind of friendship. I’d say this is one of those kids’ books that doesn’t seem to have been written for kids.
The Coming of the Bear is the sixth mystery in the Zenta & Matsuzo series. The two ronin become castaways, shipwrecked on the Japanese island now known as Hokkaido, which is populated by a native people known as the Ainu. Zenta and Matsuzo struggle with a language barrier and cultural differences while trying to figure out who’s trying to cause trouble between the Ainu and a nearby Japanese settlement. The Soprano’s Last Song is the second mystery for our trio/triangle, this time involving the opera. I find this alternative history to be light and entirely appropriate for lower middle grade readers. Nothing too complex, with hints of a long and tangled future for Irene and the two boys who have become her best friends. In Jinx’s Magic, Jinx has a whole lot of people relying on him, and most of them are trees. This is the second book in the trilogy, which picks up where the first left off and ends with the definite need to grab the final installment.
In Winterhouse, a series starter, Elizabeth the orphan is sent off to spend the Christmas holidays alone at a hotel known as Winterhouse, where she’s able to indulge her love for books, word games, and puzzles. In The Other Boy, Shane pitches for his school’s baseball team. He games with his best friend and has a crush on this really pretty girl in their class. Normal stuff. Until his rival catches wind of a secret from his old school. Something really private. Something that shouldn’t make a difference, but does. (Not really a spoiler: Shane is transgender.) In The Wild Robot, a robot washes up on an island and is accidentally activated by the animals there. Roz must learn to survive in the wild. And to get along with the many animals who also call their island home. To this end, Roz applies herself to learning the language of animals.
Aru lives in a museum dedicated to Indian history and culture. She’s grown up hearing the stories of Hindu gods and heroes. In Aru Shah and the End of Time (Bk1), she releases a demon & learns she’s the reincarnation of a folk hero. A fascinating dip into Indian culture. Fast paced, imaginative, and promising several tangles as the rest of the quartet unfolds. In The Not-So-Jolly Roger, Joe, Sam, and Fred use the book again and are transported to a tropical island, where they meet the infamous Blackbeard. Another fun, mildly educational adventure through time. Illustrated and appropriate for lower middle grade readers. In Death and Douglas, Douglas Mortimer understands death better than most kids his age. And no wonder. He lives in a funeral home, right over the morgue, because his parents are the town’s morticians. To Douglas, death is a natural part of life. But everything he’s always believe is overturned when someone in town is murdered. This is a murder mystery that gives readers a peek into the behind-the-scenes business surrounding death.
Knights of the Kitchen Table is the first book in the Time Warp Trio series. For his birthday, Joe receives a book from his uncle. It transports him and his two best friends into the distant past, to the era of knights and dragons, giants and magicians. Short, funny, and a teensy bit educational. I had mixed feelings about Swing It, Sunny, the second volume in a graphic novel series. Vignettes centered more around fads and pop culture from the 1970s. (Remember this? Remember when?) I wanted to know more about the characters. Hoping for more in Bk3. In Mascot, we meet Noah, who lost his father in the same accident that put him in a wheelchair. A little about family, a little about friendship, a little about neighbors. I liked Noah’s sharp wit (and sympathetic streak) and Dee-Dub’s unassuming genius (and trove of information). My favorite part may have been Noah’s several turn-abouts, when his opinions (and assumptions) about people underwent a radical shift.
Charlie can’t understand why nobody can remember his little brother Liam, not even their parents. But he’s determined to figure out what happened. And to get him back. The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly is a difficult book to pigeonhole. Not too scary, but tension-inducing. Not historical, but Charlie dreams of the past as if he were a different person, so several scenes take place there. Perhaps a psychological thriller for the middle grade set? Next up: Logan probably shouldn’t have been messing around in the library. Regret sets in when he learns he’s been Punished. Every time he opens his mouth, he speaks in puns. The cure proves to be a threefold challenge that will warm the hearts of word nerds everywhere. And Danger! Tiger Crossing is the first in the Fantastic Frame series. It’s an interesting series concept. There’s a magical picture frame, and at a certain time each day, it’s possible to step through it into the painting currently on display. The paintings are always classics, so there’s a solid dose of art history at the end of the adventure.
Up Next. With an eye toward my February BINGO board, I’ve settled on my next handful of titles. All of them are from my list of 100 Middle Grade Books that I want to read in 2021.