Here are two books by authors I’ve enjoyed in the past whose books I was very much looking forward to – the companion book to Rajani LaRocca’s Midsummer’s Mayhem and a first middle grade fantasy from Justina Ireland, author of Dread Nation and Deathless Divide.
Much Ado about Baseball
by Rajani LaRocca.
Yellow Jacket, 2021.
Read from library copy.
Rising seventh-grader Trish has just moved to Comity, Massachusetts for her doctor mother’s new job. As an Indian-American girl, she’s always had to be the best to be accepted in her favorite activities – Little League baseball and math trivia. She’s not looking forward to starting all over again in a new town.
Ben wouldn’t be joining Little League this year if he hadn’t lost a bet with his best friend, Abhi. He loves the math associated with baseball, but doesn’t trust his own skills at all. He certainly isn’t happy to see the girl who meet him at the last math trivia championship on his team.
Abhi loves baseball and Shakespeare, and thinks that two math- and baseball-loving kids like Trish and Ben should be friends. Maybe a little push would help? It seems like Ben’s dog, Fib, agrees with him…
Then, it turns out that their Little League team is sponsored by the new snack shop in town, the Salt Shakers. It’s run by the mysterious Mr. O, who has a strong rivalry with the bakery featured in Midsummer’s Mayhem. They have snacks that promise to help with team spirit and sports skills. Trish doesn’t believe in magic – but her new team could sure use help with both of these.
This is such a fun blend of baseball magic, mystical magic, and the real issues kids have with friends, parents, and loss. There are math puzzles woven in, as well as really sweet dog. I’m not a baseball person myself, but I would recommend this wholeheartedly to any young baseball fan, as well as fans of the previous book.
by Justina Ireland.
Balzer + Bray, 2021.
Read from library copy. Ebook and audiobook on Libby.
This one is for those who like their magic decidedly on the spooky side. It’s 1922, and 12-year-old Ophie has just woken up to her father telling her to take her mother and their emergency fund to safety. It’s not until they’re leaving that she realizes her mother can’t see her father, because she’s only seeing his ghost. Her father was killed earlier that day for trying to vote.
While Ophie and her mother escape to family in Pittsburgh, life is very different. Ophie now sees ghosts of all kinds everywhere – most especially in the grand but grim Daffodil Manor, where she and her mother take jobs as maids, though her mother forbids Ophie to talk about ghosts.. Her Great-Aunt Rose teaches Ophie a little, mostly to stay away from ghosts. But how can Ophie stay away from them when she’s surrounded by them every day? And when she finds that the one person who’s been able to help her deal with the crotchety and racist old lady she has to take care of all day is the ghost of a young murdered woman, she’s determined to solve the mystery no matter what Great-Aunt Rose told her.
This was such an excellent story! I was pulled in right from the beginning, and found myself thinking frequently in between reading sessions. Content note: there are lots of ghosts who died of gruesome causes, but Ophie herself is never in personal danger once she and her mother have escaped the South. It feels like the perfect level of spookiness for middle grade. The difficulty of life for African-Americans in this era – decades after slavery ended, but with so many unwritten but heavily enforced rules for Blacks to follow – is viscerally on display. I will second Charlotte in hoping that there will many more middle grade books from Justina Ireland.