That’s 2 new reviews, 2 I still haven’t read, and 3 links to older reviews. The 2013 Cybils Award winners were announced yesterday! Here’s a run-down of the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction finalists:
Jinx by Sage Blackwood. I own this one (a sign of love) and I have Jinx’s Magic checked out right now.
Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud. I’ve had a kind of book avalanche of library books coming in on hold and review copies built up. When I had a gap in which to read it, it was checked out. Now it’s in, but I have about 16 other books in queue. In any case, this is the one that won. It must be great. I hope to get to it soon!
Rose by Holly Webb. I loved this. I think the sequel is due out in the states soon!
Sidekicked by John David Anderson. Harper Collins Childrens, 2013.
When we first meet Drew Bean, aka the Sensationalist, he’s slowly being lowered closer to a pool of hydrochloric acid. He’s a sidekick in training, hero name “the Sensationalist” for his super-powered senses. He knows what kind of acid it is just by the smell – but that’s not going to help him escape. Next to him is his fellow sidekick-in-training and best friend Jenna, aka the White Lynx, who has more useful superpowers for this situation. Really, though, both of them are bait for their superheroes – and unlike Jenna, whose super, the Fox, is both the hero of Justicia and takes an active interest in Jenna’s training, Drew’s super refuses to have anything to do with him.
So we have Drew, a sweet and geeky boy with powers that, while undeniably out of the ordinary, don’t do much to keep him safe in the life-threatening situations that are coming up all around him. We have his friends (and rivals) in the middle school H.E.R.O. group, getting along in typical middle school fashion. And we have a group of supervillains recently released from prison – the very villains that Drew’s super put behind bars as his last act before retiring as a super. Drew will have to call on all his training and his skills to save the day, even without his super. It’s an exciting plot with a twist I didn’t see coming and good character growth as Drew comes to terms with himself and his nearly nonexistent relationship with his super. No wonder it made the Cybils shortlist! It’s still too dense for my nine-year-old to read to himself, but he’d love having it read to him, and I’d recommend it for superhero-loving kids his age through adults.
The Rithmatist by Brian Sanderson. August feels like a long time ago, but I remember really liking this. Looks like the sequel is expected in 2015 – maybe by then I’ll have caught up with my other reading?
The True Blue Scouts of Sugarman Swamp by Kathi Appelt. This one has been checked out at all times, and I have not been able to get it, though in general I trust the Cybils committee and have heard great things about it.
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore. Bloomsbury, 2013.
Ephraim Appledore-Smith, his athletic older brother Price and smart younger sister Brynn are headed to their family’s old castle in Maine. It might be fun, if it wasn’t because their father is still unable to move or talk following a stroke. The Water Castle is named for the water bottling plant that the family ran in the 19th century. Mallory Green has grown up on stories of the Water Castle her whole life – her African-American family helped build it, took care of the Appledores, and kept their secrets for them. (Slavery is never mentioned, though the house is old enough for that to have been a possibility. It’s very clear that Mallory and her ancestors are blazingly clever and have never been subservient types.) She’s never really believed the stories – but now, things are coming to light that make her want to find out just how much truth might be behind the legends. Will Wylie, meanwhile, has been told his whole life that his family’s troubles are all the fault of the Appledores. He’s turned to science to make sense of the world – but will he be able to give Ephraim a chance when they’re assigned a school project together?
Legend says that the Appledore who built the castle did so because he thought that the Fountain of Youth was hidden nearby, and it was claims of the water being at least supernaturally helpful that allowed the family fortune to be built up from selling the water. Now, Ephraim, Mallory and Will search the network of tunnels under the castle for clues. Interwoven with their story are flashbacks to Mallory’s ancestress, Nora, who worked as old Dr. Appledore’s laboratory assistant in the early years of the 20th century. She and the young heir to the Appledore fortune, Henry, bond over the polar exploration going on, even as the kids in the modern time do a project on the same topic.
Wow. There are so many intertwining layers in this book. There’s a lot of focus on the characters, on how families and the people in them can both stay the same and change through the generations, on the boundaries between science and magic, story and history. All of the kids have family problems that regular kids will be able to relate to, while the fun of exploring hidden tunnels, old laboratories, and mysterious blue lights is kid appeal of a different sort. Also, it’s a kid’s genre book with a person of color on the cover, something we can definitely use more of. This is another one to add now to my son’s ever-growing mental stack of books to read to himself when he’s a little older, or to read aloud to him.