Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Tales from the TBR: Otto P. Nudd

Otto P. Nudd, by Emily Butler, (Dec. 2020, Crown Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9781524717759

Ages 8-12

My latest TBR pick is the animal adventure Otto P. Nudd by Emily Butler. Otto P. Nudd is a raven, a bird for the ages: just ask him; he’ll tell you. He’s simply brilliant, has a wife, Lucille, and an egg on the way, and he spends his mornings with Bartleby Doyle, an old inventor who’s been taking care of Otto since he found him on the forest floor, having fallen from his nest as a baby. He’s friends with Pippa, a girl who’s just lost her father, and Bartleby’s neighbor. It’s all lovely and cozy until one morning, when Bartleby injures himself while testing out one of his experiments before Otto arrived to assist him. Now, Otto is locked out of the workshop, Pippa’s in school, and Otto’s puffed-up ego has alienated him from all of the animals he knows! He’s going to have to reconsider the way he approaches others and ask for help if he’s going to be able to help poor Bartleby. A funny, quirky story about friendship, being kind, and making amends, I loved spending time with Otto and his friends. There’s a tough squirrel named Marla, and a group of dumpster-diving birds that kids will love, especially when they interact with Otto; a side plot explores a developing crush between Pippa and a school friend, and the heart of the story is Otto’s deep love for his human friend and the roots of that relationship. It’s a great choice for a middle grade book group, and there are passages that make for good readalouds. Black and white artwork throughout the book introduces readers to the adorable characters, and a few cut-away chapters provide readers with deeper dives into STEM and friendship, courtesy of Wilma the Mouse and her friend Raúl the Guinea Pig. Hand this to Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate fans; display with classic animal adventures like E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpet of the Swan.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Big Nate meets Medieval Times: Max and the Midknights

Max and the Midknights, by Lincoln Peirce, (Jan. 2019, Crown Books for Young Readers), $13.99, ISBN: 978-1-101-93109-7

Ages 8-12

From the creator of Big Nate comes Max and the Midknights, a story about Max, a troubadour in training who really wants to be a knight; a mean king, and a group of kids determined to make things right. Throw in a magic sword and a bumbling magician, and you have Max and the Midknights, a clever blending of graphic novel and middle grade novel. Max and Uncle Budrick visit Budrick’s childhood home in the kingdom of Byjovia, only to discover that the kind King Conrad is missing and presumed dead, and his awful brother, King Gastley, is on the throne. The villagers all seem cruel and distant, and routinely rounded up and thrown in Gastley’s dungeons. Max and new friends Kevyn, Millie, and Simon, hatch a plant to save Budrick and have some exciting adventures on the way, including some interesting background on Max, epic poetry, dragons, and haunted forests.

The book is loaded with humor, very likable characters, and adventure. Big Nate fans will be happy to see Nate show up in the book’s very beginning: Max and the Midknights is his book report. I loved spending time with Max and friends, and I’m hoping to see another installment soon. Put this right up there with Dav Pilkey, Jeff Kinney (both of whom blurbed Max), and Jeffrey Brown’s books. This could be the book that gets your reluctant reader to embrace fantasy fiction!

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

What memories does YOUR door hold?

Beyond the Doors, by David Neilsen, (Aug. 2017, Crown), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-101-93582-8

Recommended for readers 8-13

Four siblings have the weirdest, worst day of their lives when they’re pulled out of class to learn that their father is in a coma after a fire consumed their home. As their mother disappeared years ago, there’s a sobbing social worker, ready to split them up to horrors unknown, until a mystery aunt is located. Janice, Zack, Sydney, and Alexa Rothbaum are quickly shuttled off to this mysterious, scatterbrained aunt. Once the kids start exploring and settling in, they learn the bizarre secret behind their aunt’s fortress home: she’s got a machine that allows her to use doors to access the memories contained within them, and she’s searching for her father: their grandfather.

Remember Monsters, Inc? How the Monsters would go through different doors to reach different kids’ rooms? Think of it like that, but instead of using the doors to get into kids’ rooms, you stepped into the memories of the person most identified with the door. If you stepped through the door to my room from 1986, for instance, you’d see me, sprawled on my bed reading a copy of Bop! Magazine, in a room papered with Duran Duran posters, and talking to my best friend on the phone. The memories are sepia-tinged, and while you can interact to a degree with the memories, too much interaction has… consequences.

It’s a madcap adventure, with a wacky aunt, an off-the-walls social worker with a penchant for the melodramatic, and loads of family secrets to discover, but character development and world-building aren’t as rich as I’d have enjoyed. There’s quite a bit of humor and a climactic battle that’s both gruesome and thrilling, and readers will never look at a bowl of Cheerios without groaning again. Black and white illustrations keep readers invested in the story. Beyond the Doors will appeal to Series of Unfortunate Events and Mysterious Benedict Society fans; display and booktalk with The Problim Children for some fun discussions about weird siblings and families. Ask kids what doors they would like to wander into – or what their doors would have to say. It’s a great creative writing or art exercise!

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Two kids discover an uncommon society below modern-day London

uncommonThe Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence, by Jennifer Bell, (Jan. 2017, Crown Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 9780553498431

Recommended for ages 9-12

Ivy Sparrow and her big brother, Seb, are worried about their grandmother Sylvie when she has a fall. Their parents are away on business, and it’s just the two of them, so when they discover that Grandma Sylvie’s home has been ransacked, and a strange, toilet brush-wielding policeman tries to arrest them, they have the feeling that strange things are afoot. They manage to escape, via suitcase – no, not carrying one, IN one – to a secret, underground city called Lundinor, where seemingly everyday objects can hold fantastic powers. They’re uncommon, and so are the people with a gift for wielding them. Healing buttons, weaponized drumsticks and yo-yos, almost anything can be uncommon in Lundinor. But Ivy and Seb don’t have the luxury of time; an evil force wants something that Grandma Sylvie has, and they’re willing to do anything to get it back from them. In trying to figure out what they want, Ivy and Seb will meet new friends and discover things about Grandma Sylvie’s past that they never could have imagined.

The Uncommoners is the first in a new middle grade fantasy series by debut author Jennifer Bell. In parts, reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, The Crooked Sixpence is a good beginning with worldbuilding and character creation, but was missing the spark that made this book – for me – truly unputdownable. Ms. Bell is at her best when she brings us her Lundinors: Ethel, the proprieter of a bell shop and Scratch, the bell; Violet, who trades in magical buttons, and Erebus and Cerebus, hellhounds who can be summoned with a specific bell and by yelling, “WALKIES!”, stole my heart and made me fall in love with Lundinor, much as I adore Gaiman’s London Below. The horrific selkies made for delightfully skin-crawling reading.

This is a promising start to a new fantasy series. Give this to your middle grade fans who enjoy some British wit (Roald Dahl, David Walliams) and fans who enjoy a little magic in their reality.