Snyder, L. (2017). Orphan Island. MA: Walden Pond Press.
On a special island, only orphaned children live, dropped off one by one, once a year A green boat arrives on the shores, always through thick mist, and drops off the youngest islander and takes away the oldest. The island itself is a safe paradise where no one ever gets hurt by an animal or anything else. The kids may squabble, but nothing major ever happens
The eldest of the nine children living there has the responsibility of teaching the newest arrival. Throughout the story, Jinny, the eldest, is guiding little Ess. When it is Jinny’s turn to board the green boat that arrives as sure as the sun Continue reading
Gratz, A. (2017). Refugee. NY: Scholastic Press.
Following three children from different places and different time periods in history, Refugee is a gripping and suspenseful story that takes the brave spirit of these seemingly unrelated children and swirls them around in the ocean as they all flee their homelands by boat, then follows them as they struggle to survive, fight to belong, and grapple with issues such as invisibility.
Everything is connected. Josef is escaping a budding Nazi Germany, Isabel flees Castro’s Cuba in the 1990’s, and Mahmoud is running from Syria in present day, yet their journeys tie together in the end. An incredibly timely middle school read, may readers question if we have learned from history or if today’s refugees be treated in the same appalling manner.
Historically accurate, thrilling, and heartbreaking, Refugee will bring you another perspective.
Glaser, M. (2017). The Book Jumper. NY: Feiwel & Friends.
This is one you’ve got to read if you’re a bibliophile and you liked the concept of Inkheart. In The Book Jumper, Amy Lennox and her mother pick up and travel from Germany to her grandmother’s house on the Scottish island of Stormsay. She’s not looking forward to it, and upon arrival her grandmother already has one rule in place – she must read. Except Amy discovers she has the power to jump into books and interact with the characters! In fact, she discovers her family shares this skill and they are also keepers of an antiquated library. Amy quickly learns that a book jumper’s duty is to insure important ideas aren’t stolen from books; indeed, there is a book thief on the prowl. She meets another book jumper, Will, and together they travel from world to world, meeting famous characters and fighting to save crucial ideas before the books themselves are lost forever.
Incredibly crafted and plot-driven, this story is unique enough to keep you happy. I especially found myself wrapped up in the Gothic island setting.
Brown, P. (2016). The Wild Robot. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Peter Brown’s art has come to middle grade fiction, and combined with his equally bare bones writing style, he has created a meditation on nature versus technology, a philosopher’s handbook, if you want to go that far.
After falling off a cargo ship and bobbing along in the ocean, Roz reaches the shores of an island where otters manage to open up her shipping box and activate her. Roz opens her eyes, looks around this place – the only place she’s ever known – and even though she is indeed a robot, she considers it home. However, survival quickly becomes her primary focus, when a storm sweeps her down in a mudslide, angry bears chase her, and a mama bird makes sure Roz lands with a clank out of a tall and sticky pine tree. Intriguingly, Roz begins to observe the island’s animals and learn their ways and their language. The line between real and robot is tenuous and appealing in Continue reading
Werlin, N. (2017). And Then There Were Four. New York: Penguin Random House.
Five prep school kids are tossed together under mysterious circumstances. When one is murdered, they begin talking and piecing together what they know about their families, and a terrifying idea surfaces. What if they are all targets? The premise is classically entertaining, mimicking Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, when a group of strangers are assembled on a remote island only to be murdered one by one.
The chapters alternate between two of the five friends, Saralinda and Caleb, she speaking in the present tense, he in the past for some reason, but both pushing forward the pace of the story. Nancy Werlin knows how to create complex characters whose voices captivate us. We become swept up into the mystery as they go on the run from their cloistered, island-esqe school to an actual island, Fire Island in New York. Here there are no cars, only dirt paths through tall grass, and little Continue reading
Turtschanioff, M. (2017). The Red Abbey Chronicles: Maresi. London: Pushkin Press.
This smart fantasy brings us to an island, a safe haven from harm, where women live together. The book opens with seventeen year old Maresi writing about the events that happened while she was thirteen. Back then, she was carrying out a content existence as a novice at the Abbey working under Mother. Beginning with a lot of description, the first book in The Red Abbey Chronicles does a good job of world-building, notably incorporating vivid descriptions of seasonal foods. I love books with maps in the front, and this one is especially helpful to gain a sense of their world: the silo-shaped Moon House, the centralized Temple of the Rose, the stone Novice House, etc.
However, the pace of the book picks up and
we are swept into a suspenseful whirlwind after Jai arrives torn and tattered, fleeing from danger. Maresi and Continue reading
Kaneko , M. (2016). Are You An Echo? Seattle: Chin Music Press Inc.
edited by by David Jacobson, Sally Ito, and Michiko Tsuboi
I’m going to start with the drawings so they don’t get lost. Toshikado Hajiri’s illustrations in the children’s picturebook, Are You An Echo? are beautiful and make me stop long enough to recognize the beauty not only in the pictures, but before me in my life. Fitting, for the poetry of Misuzu Kaneko is childlike, clear, and feels strong enough to stop time.
It was powerful enough to make Setsuo Yazaki research sixteen years for the Kaneko’s lost poetry. For all he could find was a poem that delighted him. How could someone understand how fish felt? Big Catch: Continue reading
Hardinge , F. (2015). The Lie Tree. New York: Amulet Books.
Costa Book Award for Children’s Book (2015)
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction (2016)
Andre Norton Award Nominee Young Adult Science Fiction & Fantasy (2016)
Carnegie Medal Nominee (2016)
Costa Book of the Year (2015)
YA Book Prize Nominee (2016)
Faith Sunderly’s family flees Kent, England for a small and unknown island in order to avoid social gossip surrounding her father’s work, thus providing a dreary backdrop. Historical fiction from the Victorian Era, The Lie Tree takes the adventure story and flips it on its head with a feminist twist. Gender stereotypes are annoyingly prevalent, yet Faith is a strong, intelligent character (“When every door is closed, one learns to climb through windows.”), reminding me much of the young, budding scientist, Calpurnia in The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jaqueline Kelly. Except The Lie Tree is a fantastical fairy tale. Let me explain.
Faith’s father is a natural scientist and is found murdered on the island shortly after the family moves. Investigations lead Faith to discover Continue reading
Engle, M. (2015). Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Through verse, Engle tells how she and her family used to travel from home in California to her mother’s native Cuba where they spent gorgeous summers. With the onset of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, their trips to Cuba abruptly ended along with the ties to her mother’s family, Cuba’s culture, and language. Engle’s poetry shows us travel between countries, travel between two sides of her family, and eventually travel from childhood to young adulthood.