Book Reviews: Younger Readers’ Fiction & Non-Fiction

Click on the title to access the full review.

Books are listed alphabetically by author.

The Library of Ever (Book One in a Series) by Zeno Alexander • We’ve all been there: bored out of our minds as a kid. However, how many of us have had the good fortune to have that ennui turn into a life-changing experience? Despite being eleven years old and bored to death, Leonora discovers a portal into an extraordinary library that is filled with everything in the world – and in some cases, beyond – for there are no limits.

Rebel in the Library of Ever (Book Two in a Series) by Zeno Alexander • This time, our heroine is a year older (12) and still focused on, well, everything that crosses her path, is thrust into her trust, and is requested of her. From the moment she returns to the Library, she can tell that something is more than exceedingly amiss. Her own badge has disappeared. Librarians of her acquaintance exit the Library, tearfully telling her that they’ve been fired but that the Library needs her. Malachi, the ten-foot tall Chief Answerer has been demoted to Assistant Answerer.

Beginners Welcome by Cindy Baldwin • On the heels of her father’s sudden death, Annie Lee is struck both by his absence and the loss of his infectious love of music. Her situation is further complicated by having to move and start sixth grade at a new school, away from her two best friends. She finds respite at Brightleaf Mall, where she secretly begins taking piano lessons from an older gentleman named Ray. To Annie Lee, Ray’s music is magical, and she believes the lessons will keep her father’s memory alive.

The Angel Tree by Daphne Benedis-Grab • Every December, the Angel Tree is set up overnight to greet the town of Pine River at dawn. No one knows who is behind this annual event, but the townspeople attach their wishes to the tree, knowing that somehow they will be fulfilled.

Escape from Baxters’ Barn by Rebecca Bond • Everything is fine on the farm until Burdock the cat shares a dastardly secret he learns after sneaking into the farmhouse to get warm: one of the Baxter brothers is planning to burn down the barn! Panicked, the animals wonder what will happen to them—would he burn the barn with them inside?

Beyond the Laughing Sky by Michelle Cuevas • Ten-year-old Nashville is part boy, part bird, hatched from an egg that his dad found. Despite having parents and a sister, Junebug, who love him, he feels lost in his tiny hometown of Goosepimple. He dreams of doing only one thing: flying with the birds.

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie • Moving during the school year is a drag, especially when it entails leaving your friends and the beaches of Florida for the chilly North. But Tessa’s dad’s new position with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra means there’s no arguing on that score. As soon as the family moves into their new (old) house, something makes its presence known through cold winds, a color-changing painting, mysterious drawings in Tessa’s sketch pad, and the sound of crying at night.

Sisters of Glass – Shard Series Book 1 by Naomi Cyprus • The Prince and the Pauper is given Arabian Nights flair in this clever retelling that unites magic and adventure. Nalah is a peasant girl in New Hadar who must hide her magical abilities or be arrested. Halan is a powerless princess in the Magi Kingdom, where magic rules. Neither 12-year-old knows the other exists, but a magical mirror Nalah creates at the request of a family friend becomes a portal between their worlds.

The Lion Who Stole My Arm by Nicola Davies • Lions are a dangerous threat to the people of Pedru’s village. Coming home from a fishing trip, Pedru is attacked by a lion, and he loses an arm. As he gains strength in his subordinate hand, Pedru’s desire for revenge becomes stronger.

The Girl with the Ghost Machine by Lauren DeStefano • For the past two years, 12-year-old Emmaline Beaumont’s father has been working day and night in the basement on a ghost machine intended to bring his wife back from the dead. Emmy feels abandoned, until one night, in anger, she flings her cup of tea into the machine’s mouth, and before she knows it, her mother appears in the kitchen for a few brief minutes. Without telling her father, Emmy shares her experience with her closest friends, twins Gully and Oliver, who decide they want to test the machine.

Magic in the City by Heather Dyer • Moving with their mother from Canada to their relatives’ home in England isn’t something brothers Jake, 11, and Simon, 6, want to do, but their father is in prison, and their house has been repossessed. The boys’ spirits change, however, when they encounter a magician who is retiring and gives them a stopwatch, an antique camera, and an old carpet that he claims are magical. Jake, Simon, and their 10-year-old cousin, Hannah, quickly learn that the magician was right.

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee • Ophelia is a grieving 11-year-old who only believes in things that science can explain. Following her beloved mother’s death, her father takes a job at an enormous museum in a city where it constantly snows.

The Song from Somewhere Else by A.F. Harrold • Francesca “Frank” Patel couldn’t experience a worse summer. Her best friend is away, her cat is missing, and the school bully won’t leave her alone. When the horrid giant of a kid Nick Underbridge rescues her and takes her to his home, Frank doesn’t know what to make of him. His father is friendly, and the house is cheerful and filled with beautiful music. When she snoops behind a secret door, she discovers the source of the music: a gigantic troll, who Nick reveals is his mother, living in another world.

Darling Mercy Dog of World War I by Alison Hart • Darling, the book’s charming narrator, is an adventurous dog from a loving home in England. When WWI breaks out, the British army teaches her to be a mercy dog—one who locates wounded soldiers on the battlefield regardless of danger: gunfire, bomb blasts, poison gas, uneven terrain, and barbed wire.

Hope Is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera • Star Mackie is a fifth-grader overflowing with hope—especially for friends. But that seems impossible at her new school since she is teased for living in a pink trailer and having strangely layered blue hair. Her goth sister, Winter—her closest ally—fuels Star’s hope of one day connecting with the father she has yet to meet.

Lunch Will Never Be the Same by Veera Hiranandani • Curious third-grader Phoebe G. Green is an incessant list maker and Sage’s BFF. On the first day of school, Phoebe befriends Camille, a new student from France. At lunch, Phoebe notices that Camille’s lunch—a tiny loaf of bread, bleu cheese, a salad with duck meat, and strawberries—is exotic compared to her soggy, mushy noodles.

Audacity Jones to the Rescue (Book One) by Kirby Larson • Newbery Honor author Larson’s (Hattie Big Sky, 2006) series starter is just the ticket for readers who crave adventure and mystery as much as 11-year-old Audacity Jones, an intrepid, well-read, positive-minded orphan. Left at Miss Maisie’s School for Wayward Girls, in Swayzee, Indiana, when she was 6, she is the guiding light for the other girls who live there.

Audacity Jones Steals the Show (Book Two) by Kirby Larson • Bright and charming Audacity Jones finds herself on another adventure that takes her out of Miss Maisie’s School for Wayward Girls to New York City along with her best friend, Bimmy, her sly cat, Min, and Cypher, the relocated chauffeur. There they meet famous magician and escape artist Harry Houdini, who is the middle of planning his biggest theatrical disappearing act yet, making an elephant vanish in a crowded theater.

Teeny Weenies #1 & #2 by David Lubar • Teeny Weenies: The Intergalactic Petting Zoo and Other Stories and Teeny Weenies: Freestyle Frenzy and Other Stories are two collections of Weenies stories for younger readers, and Lubar conjures up his magic in a dozen stories in each. Stories include bullying in a community pool (with unexpected consequences); the all-consuming desire to collect hard-to-get items; family vacations with surprising outcomes; an unbelievable father-daughter fishing excursion; a swim meet that isn’t quite on the up-and-up; and an aunt and uncle who are mad scientists

The Seventh Wish by Kate MessnerGrades 4-6. On a lovely, sunny day at the beach in August, I sat on the porch of the rented beach house and devoured this book. I absolutely loved it. There’s so much 4th-6th graders can relate to in this book, plus it tackles the tough issue of addiction in families without sugar coating the problem away. Well constructed and layered. This would make a great read aloud. Excellent book, Kate Messner!

The Girls of Gettysburg by Bobbi Miller • The Civil War is moving north to Gettysburg, where Grace and Tillie live. Grace, a free black, has a stubborn streak that puts her in the position of helping runaways along the Underground Railroad while being in danger herself. Tillie, a spoiled, carefree girl, holds romantic notions about the war, until its realities march right into the house where she is staying. Meanwhile, Annie, a 13-year-old Virginian restless after the deaths of her brothers, cuts her curls, dons her father’s clothing, and runs off to join the Confederate army.

The Nora Notebooks-The Trouble with Ants by Claudia Mills • Ten-year-old Nora Alpers is obsessed with science. Her parents and siblings are scientists, and her goal in life is to be the youngest person ever to be published in a scientific journal. Her topic? Ants! Nora observes ant colonies and records her findings in a brand new notebook, which she later turns into a proper scientific article.

Payback on Poplar Lane by Margaret Mincks • Twelve-year-old Peter Gronkowski knows he’s Poplar Lane’s resident business professional: founder, CEO, CFO, and COO of Peter Presents, Inc. To increase his impact, he hires his first unpaid intern, neighbor and classmate Rachel Chambers, a quiet girl who dreams of being a writer. When Peter’s constant demands and claims to Rachel’s creativity drive her to break away and start a competing business, war is declared.

The Secret of Goldenrod by Jane O’Reilly • New Royal, Iowa—population of 397—is convinced that Goldenrod, the abandoned Victorian mansion outside of town, is haunted, because of its tragic history. Almost-11-year-old Trina Maxell is convinced, as well, when she and her handyman father arrive with a year-long contract to make the structure habitable again.

Robots Rule Book One The Junkyard Bot by C. J. Richards • George Gearing lives with his grumpy uncle Otto in Terabyte Heights, a high-tech town where robots cook, clean, garden, guard, and everything else. When Jackbot, George’s personal, makeshift robot and best friend, is hit by a car, George—a whiz kid with mechanics and electronics—puts him back together.

Robots Rule Book Two Lots of Bots by C. J. Richards • More laughs and adventure with George Gearing and his friends (Robots Rule!, 2014). No sooner does George assume his role as intern at Tinker Tech HQ than he finds himself in yet another mess.

Robots Rule Book Three Battle of the Bots by C. J. Richards • Difficult situations always seem to find George Gearing. In this third book, an antirobot sentiment pervades Terabyte Heights after the MOD rollout debacle, and discarded robots have taken refuge at Uncle Otto’s junkyard. TinkerTech is shut down, and evil Dr. Micron is in jail.

Lizzy Bennet’s Diary by Marcia Williams • Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is available in versions that are annotated, illustrated, zombified, and spun off into tales of supporting characters and future speculation. Enter into the field this delightful diary version designed to introduce young readers to the classic.

Bookmarks Are People Too by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver • This new Hank Zipzer series is a prequel, placing our old pal Hank in the second grade. Hank, who has a bit of trouble focusing and a lot of trouble reading and memorizing, learns that his class will perform a play for their parents. Despite help from friends Frankie and Ashley, Hank fails the audition, losing out to tough classmate Nick.

Centaur Rising by Jane Yolen • In 1965, 11 months after Arianne witnesses an unusual Perseid meteor shower over her family’s ranch, Agora the pony gives birth to a centaur and life completely changes. As soon as he is on his hooves, the baby centaur, named Kai, embraces and bonds with another liminal being: Ari’s six-year-old brother, Robbie, a thalidomide child.

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