Do You Love Miracles?

The book in this new post is not a middle grade title, but I know all my friendly readers (because you promote reading) will love this new book as I do. In fact, I am savoring the ending of this book. After finishing the audio version read by the author I plan to buy the book for myself and re-read this book many times. Why? The Enchanted Hour is full of so many enlightening thoughts about books and tales from around the world, books from every decade, century, and cultural group, so I want to write down every inspiring quotation and share with everyone.

This book is one I will buy for every new parent and grandparent if I can find enough copies. Meghan Cox Gurdon is my newest author crush who I have been reading every week in the Wall Street Journal. In fact, her column on book reviews for children’s books is the first part I read every Saturday. Ms Gurdon refers to cultural allusions in the books she recommends for families. She uses words such as miraculous, wondrous, magic, enchantment, and prescience. Those words describe my own feelings as I listen to and read her book.

So far in this post, I have only shared the basic title but look closely at the subtitle, a title which is perfectly descriptive of her premise. The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction. Each word in the title is important. Another reason I recommend the title is the humor, scientific data, the personal stories about reading aloud, and the interviews with authors and experts on literacy that Ms Gurson presents. You will recognize many author’s names as you savor this book as I have.

If you think reading aloud is only for pre-school age children, see the chapter titled “From the Nursery to the Nursing Home.” Here is a cogent quotation:

” I believe that one of the strongest motives that leads men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness. From the fetters of one’s own ever-drifting desires, a finely-tempered nature longs to escape from personal life into the world of object perception and thought.” Albert Einstein

Did I share that I will gift as many copies of this book to as many families as I can purchase books for them?

What are more things I like about this book? Each of the chapter titles will give you hints about the relatable topics:

  1. What Reading to Children Does to Their Brains
  2. Where It All Began
  3. Reading Together Strengthens Bonds of Love
  4. Turbocharging Child Development with Picture Books (Including Lists)
  5. The Rich Reward of a Vast Vocabulary
  6. The Power of Paying Attention and Flying Free
  7. Reading Aloud Furnishes the Mind
  8. From the Nursery to the Nursing Home
  9. There is No Time Like the Present
Here is the Cover Photo that brings me wonder, magic and enchantment!

Happy Reading, Friends!


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Change In Reading

My reading has changed over this last year. For some reason (?) I have been having trouble finding and sticking with a good read. Do you have the same problem? Many of my friends seem to be in the same reading slump, even author friends. The solution? Re-reading some favorite authors has pulled me out of my reading slump.

Have you read Gordon Korman’s middle grade realistic fiction? His themes and dialogues are relatable and authentic. Not being a young male, I am surprised and delighted to understand his male characters. He brings his readers into the heads of characters, both male and female.

This weekend I re-read RESTART. Many authors have written plots about bullies. They attempt to show why the bully is angry and picks on weaker characters. We try to understand why these young people are antagonizing other students physically and psychologically. Korman twists his plot in RESTART showing the reader how the bully can be just like the victims without having been bullied himself.

Chase Ambrose, the main character in this contemporary novel, wakes up in a hospital from a coma caused by a fall off his roof. His life at home and school is an awakening to amnesia and the life he used to have. This bully does not know why people at his school keep a wide berth from him; in fact, they seem afraid of him. He doesn’t remember terrorizing other young people at school and even his young stepsister. Two of his football teammates want him to continue pranking others and he is clueless about his role in their previous incidents.

Can characters (and bullies) change? Gordon Korman expertly introduces conflicts for Chase to handle at Hiawassee Middle School. This author brings us into the point of view of other characters who despise Chase for his former behavior.

Read this realistic story to see if you think bullies can change. Gordon Korman’s books always surprise me with his twists that reveal the humanity of ‘tweens. I wish I could write middle grade realism as Korman does with humor and authenticity. I recommend this re-read and other titles such as Ungifted, Supergifted, and The Unteachables.

I am posting this blog post on Greg Pattridge’s blog Always in the Middle on MMGM where you can read other reviews of some great titles for young readers.

Happy Reading in August!

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Let’s Welcome All with A PLACE AT THE TABLE

As we plan for family and friends around the Thanksgiving table this year, we know our guest list will be different. Without being able to congregate with many this year, I have been reading realistic MG novels. A new book I want to share is by a local Maryland writer and teacher who encourages adults and children with their writing. Welcome Laura Shovan to this blog.

When I heard Laura had a new novel published this fall, I was anxious to read it. Each of her books for middle grade readers has a different theme, but usually she focuses on friendships in school and in extra-curricular activities. A Place at The Table is a collaboration between two authors with a delightfully authentic two person POV novel. The protagonists in Shovan’s and Saadia Faruqui’s novel will surprise you. Yes, this is partly an immigrant story, but the non-citizens are parents from Pakistan and Great Britain. The theme is still about how to be a good friend, with a plot including two sixth-grade classmates learning to cook Pakistani food in an after-school class.

The girls in the novel aren’t experts at being good friends, at accepting others who are different, or at cooking, but they learn the best ways to belong to their families and how to be close friends. You will want to invite Elizabeth Shainmark and Sara Hameed and their moms to have “a place at the table,” a place in your reading life. The recipes included at the back of the book will whet your appetite to try new food.

Matthew Winner, school library media specialist in Maryland, in his interview of both authors on his podcast, The Children’s Book Podcast, reminded me that the characters are complex, while they discover the secret to stand up for friends, when others exhibit biases. The relatability of the voices is perfect.

Look for other books by these two writers, as we can add their diverse titles to our bedside tables. Saadia Faruqui writes an early reader series starring Yasmin; published a new picture book called A Thousand Questions; edits a Muslim magazine called Blue Minaret; and shares on podcasts about multicultural books. What a talent! A fun fact: Saadia doesn’t enjoy cooking!

Laura is the author of two other realistic novels: The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary and Takedown and she is a poet-in-residence in Howard County Public Schools in Maryland.

I have noticed a new word that is used in reviews of MG books. More than a friend is an ALLY. In my Children’s Writer’s Word Book, ally is listed as a first grade word meaning “to side with.” An ally is not about a war term , but it can provide a confusing scenario for a young protagonist. She may learn that a friend is not just someone sharing a fun activity; a friend is someone who stands up for you when to speak out may be difficult.

Currently, I am reading Erin Entrada Kelly’s newest novel, Blackbird Fly. Can you imagine how a Filipino American girl would feel if her “friend” did not speak up for her when a boy called her a Chinese dog-eater? The biases in the beginning of the book set up many conflicts for Apple Yengko. I will finish this engaging story tonight and review it soon on this blog.

Happy Reading in November during the longer days.


Filed under Children's Literature, Realistic Fiction

My Newest Book Crush

My newest book crush is for NIKKI ON THE LINE by debut author Barbara Carroll Roberts. A local author from Fairfax, VA, she captures a special love for the thirteen-year-old protagonist Nikki Doyle. No, this isn’t a ‘tween romance story. This book is a sportsbook, not my first choice genre of MG books. Nikki’s goal is to make a new club basketball team for eighth-grade girls. I can’t wait to share this title with my thirteen-year-old grandson to see if he relates to a girl who works overtime to practice for her competitive basketball team.

I enjoy Greg Pattridge’s rating system from Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. Here are 5 extra things I love about this book:

  1. The protagonist in this book is a realistic girl;
  2. Nikki has been a star on a recreational team and then she expands her goal to try-out for an even more competitive team;
  3. The author includes familiar friends and family conflicts;
  4. Nikki becomes friends with a neighborhood boy, Booker, a friendship she keeps secret from her girlfriends; and
  5. The basketball coach encourages team play, hard work, and not just winning.

I can’t wait to share this book with my MG readers who love sportsbooks and the theme of hard to reach goals. Previous to reading this book, my favorite basketball book I recommended was The Moves Make the Manby Bruce Brooks, School Library Journal’s best book of 1984, and a Newbery Honor book of 1985.

This blog post is my first to share on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday, a site I hope you will enjoy; the reviewers are excellent.



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The Waiting Game

“Often middle grade books are tackling similar issues to their adult counterparts but with a more hopeful perspective.” Allison Ruth @ sometimes the wiser blog

            It’s fun to see the lists of books nominated for awards. We read them and judge winners. I am collecting Agatha and Edgar mystery awards, especially those written for children and YA readers. Following the mystery reading I was challenged to read some great children’s contemporary fiction as a Round 2 Judge for the CYBILS organization of bloggers. All the nominees were exemplary titles, but the themes were difficult. The committee had to choose the best book of 2019 from a list of 7 books all with a theme about grief and loss.

“If nobody’s grieving, then the book wasn’t published in 2019.” Betsy Bird (Amazon reviewer and librarian)

            I agree with the reviewer. You may be wondering if this subject is too difficult for young readers of ages eight to twelve (or fourteen). The fact is that grief and loss are realistic in contemporary life. The challenge for the writer is to show how the characters, especially the young protagonists, cope and find resilience in the face of adults who do not always make the right decisions for the main characters. Middle grade readers want to see characters acting bravely, even during their uncertain years. We all had to grow up with conflict of some type, although deaths and abandonment aren’t present in each family.

            And the winner is:  The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Geminhart. Homeschooled Coyote lives in a school bus named YAGER (the letters Vo came off) with her strange-looking father she calls Rodeo. The cover grabbed me at first, with our protagonist sitting on the top of the yellow bus in her huge sunglasses, her braid flying away from her body, her cat observing her. The back cover graphically introduces the rest of the diverse characters who are an unpredictable, interesting cast you want to know. Geminhart’s language and the various voices kept me reading this book all in one sitting. Adventure and mystery, intense grief and resilience, all combine to make this MG realistic novel a winner!

            Almost a winner: the second title we discussed is Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly. Here is a book about a deaf ‘tween who is misunderstood literally and figuratively. Although her grandparents are deaf, her parents and classmates aren’t as willing and able to sign ASL with Iris. Only her brother and her grandmother understand her love of radios and sound communication with whales. I wanted to understand the poetry shape game that Iris played with her grandfather before he died, but the author wasn’t able to draw me into the image. Although this book seemed to be an example of realistic fiction, I think the trip her grandmother shared with Iris wasn’t plausible. Read it yourself and see if this is exemplary fiction.

            If you like resilient female protagonists, let me introduce you to Ellie. She has lived her life in a wheelchair, but she can do anything except walk with her cerebral palsy. She wants to be a prize baker; her mother and grandmother encourage her dreams, offering her their kitchens so she can perfect her skill. Her life changes when she has to move to a trailer park far from her home to help her grandmother with her grandfather, whose memory is failing. This book is realistic and not filled with grief like the others I read in this contest. Ellie and her mother learn to Roll with It in Jamie Sumner’s novel where disabilities are handled expertly and humorously. 

            Right as Rain by Lindsey Stoddard stars Rain, a young runner who tries to cope with the guilt of blame for her brother’s death in Vermont as her family escapes to a new apartment in NYC. Nothing she does endears her to her grieving parents and her new classmates until she finds a kindred spirit in a track star Frankie, who has her own secrets. Although her parents love her, their feelings toward Rain aren’t evident as they struggle with their loss for their son. The title didn’t resonate with the themes of the book for me. Rain’s voice wasn’t as strong as other titles in this contest. 

            The Bridge Home by Padma Venkataraman has won awards and starred reviews from major literary publications.  My only quarrel with this survivor story of four resilient South Indian orphans, homeless on the streets of Chennai, is that it may not appeal to a young MG audience. I recommend it be taught in middle school social studies classes. Aisha Seed, author of Amal Unbound, declares it captivating and the characters brave. The hard truths of children growing up on the streets of India reminds me of Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, another harsh story but one written for adults. 

            Operation Frog Effect by Sarah Scheerger almost appears like a graphic novel until you realize that only one of the characters communicates by drawing because that is his best mode for sharing his feelings. The strength in the novel is that each voice of the various children is presented as a journal entry to the teacher. The concept with eight protagonists works well, but the theme of the frog class mascot seems silly compared to the other great MG books I read. One Amazon reader called it “a very cleverly written, fun story.” I agree that it is not great children’s literature. 

            Maybe He Just likes You I by Barbara Dee needs a better title. No one can understand the anxiety that Mia feels when the boys in her class come too close to her and begin to touch her. This story is a #MeToo for ‘tweens, but it doesn’t seem sincere enough to me. The title makes light of the issue the protagonist is facing. The only saving grace, which comes late in the book, is the connection to bullying that a guy friend experienced the year before. Mia was strong in her support of Max, but she was slow to recognize the similarities and the resolution that could be used to help herself and others. Barbara Dee wrote about a realistic, current topic, but I think her handling of it was too subtle and simplistic as some Amazon readers pointed out. 

            I titled this blog post THE WAITING GAME because I couldn’t wait to share these titles with you after we judges were sworn to secrecy until the results were announced. February 14, 2020 came and went and I still couldn’t complete this post. Why you ask? I finally realized that I had trouble releasing my feelings about these seven books. They had been presented to us from other judges who read over 30 MG fiction novels. I knew they all were worthy, but it was difficult to evaluate them. It took a team effort to decide which ones were the best. The comments above are mine alone. I thank all the judges and reviewers of children’s fiction who share their recommendations of great authors with us.

            Please let me know what you think of my reviews. 

Happy Reading in 2020!

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Digging Up Detectives

“Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood.” —Mary Oliver 

Those readers who know me, know I do not have any pets, but I do have a “pet” project. My pet project is reading new children’s mysteries to recommend to everyone I know. I check them out at the library. I read literary blogs that review children’s books, always looking for the words “mystery,” “detective,” or “suspense” in reviews. Of course, I love to read varied books written for middle grade and YA readers! Recently, I wrote an article about some titles I‘ve read in 2019.

Because I love to write children’s mysteries as well as read the newest ones, I enjoyed a freebie I picked up at The ALA conference here is Washington, DC in June. Digging Up Detectives by Jacqueline West is two books in one with the second book serving as a guide for aspiring mystery writers, especially for young writers. Although, I am not a young writer, I found the guide helpful to me, too.

Several of the books I am recommending in this post were advanced copies I was lucky enough to read before release dates. Now you know why I chose the title of this month’s blog!

         Exciting news for me:  I have been asked to pen a continuing column about middle grade mysteries for my writers’ association’s newsletter. These newsletter readers are adult cozy writers who may not be familiar with children’s literature, so I am sharing what I know about children’s mystery readers of all ages.

Also, I will be a judge for the best middle grade fiction published in 2019 selected by CYBILS, a large group of children’s literary bloggers. Winners to be announced in the spring.

Some of the books I read are scary, thrillers, adventures, or may be set in fantastical places. The blending of the genres doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the mystery and suspense elements.You may not read the same type of books I choose, but I highly recommend you start, because you will find tightly written plots, intriguing clues, well-developed and complex characters, and mysteries you want to solve along with the dynamic detectives.

Here are creative titles I enjoyed this summer. Aren’t you curious to read Jada Sly, Artist and Spy by Sherri Winston; Two Can Keep a Secret…If One of Us Is Dead by the YA author Karen McManus; Guest: A Changeling Tale by Maryland author Mary Downing Hahn; Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers by debut author Shauna Holyoak; and The Multiplying Mysteries of Mount Ten by Krista Van Dolzer?  Wildfire  by Rodman Philbrick, a favorite author from my past, I highly recommend for male readers! 

A British middle grade writer I encourage you to try is Robin Stevens. She was nominated for an Edgar for First Class Murder, which reminded me of Murder on the Orient Express! Her 2019 Wells and Wong mystery, Top Marks for Murder, part of a series set in a British boarding school, combines mystery with school stories. Yes, there is often a murder in her exciting mysteries!

Maybe some think murder is too heavy for the younger set of eight to twelve. An interview on one of the literary blogs explained: “I would say that I don’t believe that there is a topic too heavy for middle grade. I think the beautiful thing about books is that we need all of them.” This quotation from Laurel Snyder, the author of Orphan Island and My Jasper June, released last month

We can all look forward to more mysteries to be released this fall in my favorite subgenre of mystery and detective stories. One title I am waiting to read is the third in a humorous mystery series called The Real McCoys. Matthew Swanson is the author of this highly illustrated series, which his wife Robbi Behr fills with imaginative drawings. At first, you think these long books are graphic novels but readers are in for surprises on each page as we see Moxie and Milton McCoy come alive. The Real McCoys: Wonder Undercover will be on the shelves on November 5th!

Matthew Swanson explains the lure of why he writes Middle Grade mysteries. “When Moxie showed up and declared herself to be the world’s greatest fourth-grade detective, I felt obliged to create a problem for her to solve. Along the way, I discovered that mysteries are universal blueprints for helping kids figure out the constant confusion of everyday life—with all its puzzles and clues and red herrings and surprising twists. My hope is that by following Moxie’s misadventures, kids will see that no one gets it right all the time; that occasional dead-ends are best met with a sense of humor; and that the surest way to solve the mystery of the moment is sheer persistence. And enthusiasm. And by relying on whatever help presents itself, even if comes in the form of one’s boring-as-a-butter knife little brother.” 

         Please join me in digging up dynamic detectives for our children, grandchildren, students, and readers of all ages everywhere. Follow the theme that Children’s Book Week publicized last May: “Read Now, Read Forever!” If you discover more 2019 children’s and YA mysteries you read or are writing, ones you think are eligible for the Agatha Best Children’s and YA mystery fiction for 2019, share with all of us.

Happy Reading in 2019!

Part of this blog were published in the October First Draft newsletter for Guppies.

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Where The Crawdads Sing

How do I describe this masterful writing? It’s a debut novel about a lonely, nature-loving girl. It’s a best seller. I usually avoid reading those titles although I check the list weekly. This book surpasses them all. Oh, I almost forgot, several respected friends recommended this title to me. Was there too much hype about this book? I waited and decided to finally read it when it was gifted to me.

Where the Crawdads Sing reminds me of the language in Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. With each of these books, I couldn’t read in my usual fast pace. I had to read and re-read passages to fully immerse myself in the images these brilliant writers create.

Delia Owens caught me about 100 pages in with her purposeful repetition and alliteration. “And when a swell surged beneath them, his thighs brushed against hers and her breathing stopped.” Can’t you feel the waves and the sexual tension? She captured my attention and held it until the last page.

From that quoted sentence on, I didn’t want to put the book down, but I did stop reading to savor each scene, relive each emotion she wove around Kya, her main character. I could sense every detail of nature as well as the human emotion in this girl so unlike me. Somehow the author made her relatable.

The truths Owens revealed on each page are universal. We all feel alone and unwanted sometimes. Most of us readers have lives different from this isolated child who grew to womanhood almost totally self-reliant.

I wanted to adopt Kya, to reach her and teach her about companionship she intuited intimately, but which she only witnessed in deer and insects and the creatures around her beloved marsh. This book is not about nature alone: it is about how nature explains human life if we are only as observant as Kya was.

This slow-moving lyrical plot and complex character development sneaked up on me like a swarm of flying insects I want to ignore. But I could not abandon this book; it drew me in until the last word on the final page. The memory of it will live after I pass it on to a family member who wants to read it next.

How can we be lonely when we have authors like Delia Owens who draw us into the world where the crawdads sing? What a gift to me and to all who read this book.

Happy Summer Reading!


Filed under Adult Literature, Best Sellers, First Novels, Literary Fiction, Mystery


When you start out reading mystery novels and fairy tales as a child, it is not unusual to return to those genres in adult life. I wanted to finish reading as many of the new mysteries of 2018 for children and young adults so I could share the titles with friends of all ages. In my last blog post (ACK! it was in August), I listed middle grade mysteries I had read and planned to read by December 31, 2018.

Now I can give brief summaries of the best I read and the newest books I have added to my reading journal in 2019.

Jonathan Auxier’s SWEEP. I wanted to see if it was a mystery, a fantasy, or a historical fiction novel. It was all of these genres creatively mixed into one novel. I have always been amazed by stories of Golems and I knew Auxier was a master at writing about monsters after I completed my 2018 reading with his crafty THE NIGHT GARDENER. What an amazing tale! The characters are bold, brave, and realistic in this novel in contrast to the scared but strong characters of Newt, Charlie, and Nan Sparrow in SWEEP.

The subtitle of Sweep tells you an important theme of SWEEP: THE STORY OF A GIRL AND HER MONSTER. Around the sadness, brutality, and hard work of the orphaned sweeps in 19thcentury London, there is love and belonging you will never forget.

I thank my daughter for granting me my wish of gifting me with this novel.

After reading that dark, but compelling novel, I needed some lighter reading which I found in two contemporary mystery novels for middle grade readers. You will have fun with CM Surrisi’s A SIDE OF SABOTAGE and Cindy Callaghan’s JUST ADD MAGIC—POTION PROBLEMS, both Agatha-nominated children’s mysteries. Fun reading with authentic, relatable characters and mystery plots that are unpredictable.

Cynthia introduced me to another writer friend who I am devouring. You will love Barbara O’Connor’s books WISH, HOW TO STEAL A DOG, and FAME AND GLORY IN FREEDOM, GA. Next on my TBR list is her newest book WONDERLAND.

The talent of these authors continues to amaze me. Just this morning I finished TO NIGHT OWL FROM DOGFISH, the combined efforts of Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer. How did these varied authors come up with a novel in emails between two unlikely friends who try to make a larger, loving family? The entire novel is unpredictable with incredible, but realistic voices of Bett and Avery. You may be surprised at the depth of the girls feelings for their dads and each character in the book. I can picture them emailing each other with their diverse personalities coming out in successive letters. Be prepared for the added themes suggested by WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS in the girls’ subtle mentions of race, surrogacy, and same-sex partners.

Another novel completely in letters I love is THE NIGHT DIARIES by Veera Hiranandani. The author shares family life of Indians who are living during the partition of India into Pakistan in 1947. The characters are complex in this historical fiction epistolary novel, but the language is accessible for young readers from grades 4- 7. I love letter writing and this novelist crafts a novel of plot and character courageously through Nisha’s letters to her deceased mother. Each letter develops the characters in this devastating time period.

Because all of the titles I have invited you to Come Read with Me! star girls, I have to share the “boy” book my grandson, Jack, recommended. TWERP by Mark Goldblatt is full of humor with boys getting in trouble daily even though the main character, Julian, is a good sixth grader, not a bully some adults assume. His journal entries to his ELA teacher are full of crazy adventures only boys could cook up. Goldblatt wrote a sequel about more of Julian’s troubles in FINDING THE WORM. Unbelievable is my word for these middle grade titles by a former professor at the Fashion Institute of America.  Where did he get these plots and characters? They must be from real life. Jack found them hilarious!

Next blog post will be to share adult titles I am enjoying. Please comment on these reviews and share what you have been reading. I am “starved” for comments.



Filed under Children's Literature, Fantasy, Historial Fiction, Mystery, Realistic Fiction, Uncategorized


We all have guilty pleasures, delights which take our time. My obsession is for new Middle Grade mystery novels. My quest is to find not only the best of the genre; I want to be able to recommend them to children, parents, teachers and librarians. In fact, great middle grade mysteries should appeal to all of us.

To attract these readers, books should contain all the classic mystery elements with great plots offering clues worth pursuing; amateur detectives who are creative, authentic young people, relatable to all ages; and solutions that the young protagonists reach realistically without much assistance from adults. My ideal mystery won’t be too silly, too scary, or too fantastic. The newest trend in children’s mysteries blends genres adding thrilling plots, historical mysteries, and sometimes too many fantasy elements.

The list of the new 2018 titles is getting longer. Not all of these books appeal to me, but they may interest other readers. Please help me to find the best in this list from the first half of 2018. So far I have found only a few that grabbed me, drawing me in to read them in one long sitting. I will save the best for last. And I encourage you to decide.

Some titles are continuations of series, some are debuts, and some are not my style, but here they are. Which mysteries are the best of 2018?

Balliett, Blue: Out of the Wild Night(Scholastic, 2018) This book is a confusing ghost story. Why doesn’t the ghost narrator help the children solve the mystery? Such an unusual mystery from one of my favorite authors (Balliett wrote novels featuring Chicago young sleuths solving mysteries that involve famous art works.) This book is set on Nantucket Island among the graves and homes of present and former residents, with many twists from the ghosts which are ever present.

Freeman, Martha: Zap! (Simon & Shuster, 2018) This diverse book was recommended to me by another school librarian. Spanish is sprinkled throughout the books- context clues help. Homelessness, struggling families, and use of technology for good or ill all are present in this contemporary mystery that revolves around a city’s electrical blackout. Can Luis, Carlos, and Maura restore electricity and connectivity to their community while finding the culprits? Surprisingly strong language and hurtful dialogue from these middle school students although their problems are realistic and poignant. This book may take a second reading for me to assess its worth.

Ginns, Russell: Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans (Random House Children’s Books, 2018) Adventure, Mystery and Detective, Fantasy. This title includes puzzles, drawings similar to a graphic novel and fantastical comings and goings.

Grabenstein, Chris: Sandapalooza Shakeup(Wonderland series #3) (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2018) In this author’s goofy humorous tale, you will be visiting a familiar setting in Florida where a realistic competition between two hotels has guests guessing which place to stay. Do they want superior service, live entertainment or safety from thieves and bungling?

Weyr, GarrettThe Language of Spells (Chronicle Books, 2018) Would you like to read a book about a dragon and a young girl? The mystery begins in 1803 the year when dragons cease to be born. Maggie meets Grisha decades later in a historical, fantasy mystery that mirrors events in Nazi Germany. Let me know what you think.

The book I enjoyed the most is a sequel to The Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. This 2015 bestseller for middle grade readers captured my attention. What bookworm wouldn’t love books about readers searching for clues to find hidden books in parks, bookstores and famous landmarks? Of course, there is always mystery when Emily and James with their family and friends follow clues to the solution. Bertman followed her debut story with #2 The Unbreakable Codeand #3 The Alcatraz Escape. I suggest reading all three in order, but if you are pressed for time, Bertman’s The Alcatraz Escape (Henry Holt and Co., 2018) will provide great entertainment as the children have grown, show their preteen realistic anxieties, and still manage to visit Alcatraz to strive to complete all the puzzles the inventor of the Book Scavenger games provides.

The following titles are still to be read to the end or are later 2018 releases.

Abbott, Tony: Denis Ever After (Katherine Tegan, July 24, 2018) Starred reviews in BL and PW. Read how a surviving twin and his friends solve the mystery of the other twin’s death when the parents are still mute and grieving,

Auxier, Jonathan: Sweep: The Story of A Girl and Her Monster (Penguin/ Random House, Sept. 2018) Historical fiction. Mystery or fantasy or both?

Cervantes, Angela: Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring (Scholastic, 2018) rec by One More Page booksellers. Looks short and well-developed.

Gibbs, Stuart: Waste of Space (Moon Base Alpha Series)(Simon & Shuster, 2018) Sci-Fi, Mystery…

Haddix, MargaretChildren of Jubilee(to be released) (Simon & Shuster, November, 2018)

Hale, Shannon and Dean: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious (Marvel Press) A format so different that I am having trouble relating. Maybe I am too old for modern, graphic novels…

Johnson, Varian: The Parker Inheritance (rec by Booklist Reader) (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018) I did not finish this book because the dialogue is stilted….

Lloyd, NatalieThe Problim Children(Katherine Tegen, 2018) [Seems like Lemony Snicket family so far, to me, but my 11-year-old niece wanted to read it!] Check out the spellings of the names of Problim family children!

Ray, AmitThe Mansion Mystery(the Sen Kids) (Independently published, 2018) Indian mystery, very short, mostly digital publishing. Brothers in Kolkata, India, solve a mystery in their home.

Sands, Kevin: Call of the Wraith (Book 4 of Blackthorn Key series, (Aladdin, Sept. 2018)

Sedgwick, Julian: The Wheel of Life and Death (Mysterium, 3) (Hatchette UK 2014 and Carolrhoda, US, 2018)

      Happy reading in Summer of 2018!




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I love reading children’s fiction and especially mysteries.  Why?

Like most of us mystery readers and writers, as a youngster when I became bored with Dick and Jane, Spot and Fluffy, I started reading The Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, The Boxcar Children, Vicky Barr (Air Stewardess), and other mystery series titles for children.  When I began to write my myself, I realized I knew mysteries and especially children’s mysteries better than most other genres.

Do you remember Cherry Ames, Sue Barton, and Trixie Belden? Few plots stayed with me, but one title was memorable. The Bobbsey Twins and Baby May prompted me to beg my mother for a baby sister when I was ten and then eleven. Surprise! I do have a sister who is 12 years younger than me. (I found out recently that my favorite Bobbsey Twins’ book was highly regarded by the famous children’s author, Lois Lowry.  Read her The Willoughbys for allusions to many juvenile titles we all enjoyed).

Being a big sister made me want to grow up even faster and I began to read adult mysteries such as Perry Mason by Earle Stanley Gardner plus the MacDonalds, both Ross and John D., then I progressed to psychological thrillers such as Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn.

After my children were born I volunteered in the school library where my hidden love emerged. I realized I always wanted to be a librarian:  to talk about and share books with readers of all ages. I obtained my MLS and realized my goal of being a children’s librarian in a public school in Montgomery County, MD, in 1992!

Now the titles we have available are not as formulaic as the early mystery series were written. If you haven’t read books for this age, you are in for a treat. Clues, red herrings, and meaty plots with unique characters are found in every bookstore and school library.

Where to begin? One of the standard classic children’s mystery novels, a Newbery medal winner, is The Westing Game. Written in 1978 by Ellen Raskin, I haven’t read it yet.  Here are Raskin’s intriguing first lines: “The sun set in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!”

Speaking of children’s book awards, Joan Lowry Nixon won the coveted Edgar, given out by Mystery Writers of America membership, three times in the 1980’s with titles as varied as The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore, The Séance, and The Other Side of the Dark.

Even in the 1970’s, children’s mystery authors were introducing diverse characters, which is the newest trend in children’s literature. Skip ahead to my time as a school librarian. Blue Balliett’s art mysteries set in Chicago grabbed me when I as an elementary librarian. learning the newest titles to share. I followed up her debut Chasing Vermeer (2004) reading the other three in her series about art heists solved by a multi-cultural group of pre-teens. Balliett’s mysteries include boys and girls from a middle school, their creative teacher, and a math game called Pentominoes. I cannot explain how these plastic pieces help one protagonist, Calder, but the author will make you understand why these manipulatives are central to solving clues.

Many mystery writers are now mixing genres, adding adventure, historical fiction, humor, and maybe some fantasy to their novels. Two examples of current titles I enjoyed in 2017 include Kate Milford’s sequel to The Greenglass House, The Ghosts of Greenglass House,  and a debut by Caroline Carlson called The World’s Greatest Detective. It would be a spoiler to mention which genres are mixed in these mysteries! I am proud to mention Carlson’s novel (and my grandson’s favorite detective novel) has been nominated for an Agatha this year!).

Chris Grabenstein’s fun series adds gaming and holograms as well as competitions to his Lemoncello Library books. Boys and girls compete in a modern-day Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-like contest. Another great children’s mystery, recommended to me by my favorite mystery Indie bookseller, is The Book Scavenger. Do you know children who enjoy geocaching? Jennifer Chambliss Bertman combines the idea of searching for clues in geographic locations with the concept of book titles. The setting is everyone’s favorite: San Francisco. Think Dashiell Hammett, Edgar Allen Poe and Jack Kerouac. Children learn about these famous authors while reading Bertram’s books and scavenging along with the characters. I hear there is a great sequel to The Book Scavenger!

Another favorite author includes Mary Downing Hahn, a Children’s Book Guild member in the Washington, DC chapter. Her ghost stories are deliciously scary according to the students where I volunteer. They loved Took and One For Sorrow (2017). Sometimes Hahn adds time travel elements to her books. She won the Edgar Award for Juvenile mysteries in 2010 for Closed for the Season, now on my TBR list. I can recommend her earlier books such as The Doll in the Garden, Wait Till Helen Comes: a Ghost Story, and A Time for Andrew (especially appealing to guy readers.)

 How about contemporary topics introduced in a mystery?  Gordon Korman has penned a series which explains the complications of cloning in his Masterminds series. This intriguing set of books reminded me of Nancy Farmer’s science fiction mysteries, such as The Eye, the Ear and the Arm as well as The House of the Scorpion for YA readers.

Wesley King shared true-to-life experiences in a mystery featuring Daniel who suffers from OCD without a diagnosis. His Edgar, Silver Birch, and Bank Street Best Book of the Year awarded title, OCDaniel for high school students, provides a great adventure in eighth grade and on the football team with clues surprising even Daniel and his new friends. The author astonishes us when Daniel receives an unsigned note which reads,  “Help me.” I agree with the Booklist starred review that OCDaniel, “a perceptive, first person narrative is sometimes painful, sometimes amusing, and always rewarding.”  The mystery sneaks up on the reader as “a bonus” to this unusual novel which will appeal to older middle schoolers and high school readers.

If you readers enjoy pets in your novels, try Spencer Quinn’s series about Bowser and his owner Birdie. Quinn’s adult series about Bernie, the dog, will remind you of the author’s  fun and unique technique of solving mysteries when the main detective’s sidekick cannot “speak” out loud. Another Agatha nominated author in other years, Quinn has written Woof (2015), Arf (2016) and Bow Wow (2017) in the Birdie and Bowser series.

The Harlem Charade is a children’s mystery debut nominated this year for an Agatha. Natasha Tarplay, author of I Love My Hair, creates a contemporary mystery with diverse young protagonists: a homeless boy, a Hispanic girl living above a bodega, and a secretly rich female friend, all of whom find community spirit along with Harlem’s art history. (By the way, Gordon Korman provided his “thumbs up” blurb on the cover of this new book as he complimented the twists and pacing of Tarplay’s novel.

When I don’t read mysteries, I love historical fiction. York: The Shadow Cipher (Book 1) by Laura Ruby is a distinctive NYC historical mystery. Beginning in the 1800’s with a prominent fictional family, the action moves into the present. I cannot even describe the elevator in the current family’s historic home. You will have to discover the fantastic way the contemporary twins leave their apartment to solve this intriguing family mystery.

What is my conclusion?  SO MANY BOOKS; SO LITTLE TIME!

I am looking forward to meeting and greeting new and old author friends at Malice Domestic 30, a great fan conference in Bethesda, MD at the end of April. One new mystery author I just met online is Cindy Callaghan, whose novel  Sydney Mackenzie Knocks ‘Em Dead, a 2017 Agatha nominee for best children’s mystery, I found very appealing for the middle grade audience.

I urge you to find time for these titles, many of which can be read in one to two days. Check out the mystery award lists for new favorites. You won’t be disappointed at the variety and the craftsmanship of the children’s mystery authors.

I was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana to a reading and writing family. MY grandfather published two books and a play; my mother was the women’s editor and later one of the first city editors of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in the 1950’s and 1960’s; and my uncle wrote for The Stars and Stripes. Our grandsons love to read and write mysteries, too. After retiring from a school librarian position in 2007 at an elementary school where I taught Marcia Talley’s grands, this school librarian was encouraged by Kathy Harig of Mystery Loves Company Bookstore and author Marcia Talley to attend Malice Domestic!

www.BESTBOOKSBYBETH.COM for more recommendations of children’s literature





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Filed under Award winning books, Boys' books, Children, Children's Literature, Different Children, First Novels, Historial Fiction, Malice Domestic, Mystery