Category Archives: Uncategorized

Have You Read the Newbery Yet?

Why haven’t I shared the best MG fiction book of 2022?

FREEWATER by Amina Luqman-Dawson was honored by the Newbery AND the Coretta Scott King Awards committees on January 30, 2023! I can’t stop talking about this exemplary novel for MG readers (actually for anyone ten and older who loves to read the best books.) I am overwhelmed with its excellence, but I couldn’t decide what to share.

Lucky me. For the first time I read the Newbery winner before it was announced. I had the honor to be a Round 2 judge for CYBILS in the category of MG fiction. I won’t write about the other six nominees, because FREEWATER was my top pick as soon as I finished reading it in January.

FREEWATER is an exceptional book because it’s a cross-genre novel with experimental elements that work seamlessly. The author combines historical fiction, adventure, and mystery in this multiple POV cast of characters. Can you tell I’m having trouble not gushing over this book?

When I first picked up the book from the library, I was intrigued by the cover of a young black boy with sad eyes. The book is 416 pages and we were tasked to choose the best MG fiction of 2022 from a list of seven titles (out of 100 nominees chosen by the Round One judges!) One of the top criteria is the appeal to this age group. I wondered if the intended readers and I would read that many pages to the end. FREEWATER is an unexpected page-turner.

I read this novel twice in one week. Why? And why do I want my own copy to keep?

The chapters are short. The multiple characters narrate in two POVs. The main character shares his story in first person. The secondary characters are presented in third person with each young character’s unique personalities and conflicts overcome in realistic ways. Every chapter leads to new crises engaging me so I couldn’t put the book down. The skill of this debut author provided craftsmanship for upper MG readers, young adult readers and every reader who loves great writing. This novel is a mentor text for me.

One of the best elements is the theme that’s expressed from the beginning, starting with the appropriate title. All the main characters are enslaved on a plantation in the southern United States. Running for freedom, two youngsters are guided to a community living in the swamps. (Ms Luqman-Dawson discovered the history of slaves escaping to the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia and North Carolina which she shares in a video available on Amazon.) The community in the swamp learns to use every part of the water to survive using their own ingenuity.

You owe it to yourself to find this exemplary novel starring Homer and Ada and their families. The second printing has arrived at my independent bookstore. I will cherish this book and gift the title to many avid family members and friends.

One more special tidbit about FREEWATER: the author is planning a second book with one of the secondary characters. I can’t wait to see what you think of book one and what’s coming in the future of Amina Luqman-Dawson’s writing journey.

Please read this blog post on Greg Pattridge’s MG blog Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays along with other MG novel reviews.

Happy reading this spring!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized


Duet, Echo, and Loyalty are one word titled books providing images in their different genres immediately from their short titles. These middle grade books share universal values of trueheartedness that appeal to all ages without cliches. Each author experimented in the writing of them which causes the books to reach new heights.

Duet by Elise Broach begin with a female goldfinch as the narrator. Animal stories are not my favorite type of book to choose. (In fact, I just put down Katherine Applegate’s book about Bob.)I know they appeal to this audience, but they are not my first choice. Mirabelle captured my attention right away when she shares why we all love finches. “Just seeing me–even for a split second, half hidden by leaves, a glimpse of that bright flashing yellow–well, I promise you, it is guaranteed to make you smile.” How true. This personification drew me into the story. Besides her bright color, subtler than her brothers’, what mira bell wants to be known for is her voice, her singing. her narrator’s voice is amazing.

Can you imagine the duet between a young male pianist and Mirabelle who becomes his muse? Elise Broach teaches all her characters, animals and humans about love, loyalty, and the classical compositions of Chopin. Those ideals seem like too much in one short novel, but Broach makes the story work.

Speaking of loyalty, Avi has written another historical novel, this time about the origins of the American Revolution. His experimental writing shows us a British Whig family in Massachusetts being terrorized by the rebel Americans. in April of 1774, Noah Paul Cope begins his story: “On this day, my father was murdered because he said a prayer.” What powering this first line. Who wouldn’t want to find out what happens next? We are used to American history form the viewpoint of Americans wanted freedom from Britain. When Noah’s pastor father, New England born and bred, prays over the family meal ending with the phrase “God save England,” as he believed all his life, Noah’s life changes.

Should Noah follow his father’s teachings or his friends and neighbors in the beginning days of the Sons of Liberty rising? We learn from Noah all he knew about Tories and Whigs, Rebels and Loyalists, in Great Britain and the fictional town of Tullbury, MA. It wasn’t a story of kindness and only one truth. Each colonial character exhibits a different voice wether of fear, intimidation, compliance, timidity, or stall-worthiness, each sharing loyalty to his own causes.

The novel continues with adventure and mystery as Noah’s family moves to Boston to find safety. Connecting these two novels, Duet and Loyalty, are the words “goldfinch” and “cages.” Wealthy men in the Boston area are called “goldfinches” for their clothing, canes, and wigs. They appear as dandies. Both books share the importance of fealty to friends and beliefs. Noah considers his black freeman’s advice: “No point in being lay to what keeps you in a cage.”

Broach and Avi bring us into their worlds, the worlds of piano concerts, goldfinches singing in trees, or rebellions and soldiers. Each book is one I couldn’t put down.

Then I read Echo by a favorite author, Pam Munoz Ryan, who I discovered when I was a school librarian. No two of the books are alike. Echo begins with a German folktale of three baby girls unwanted by their king father who longs for a male heir. These young girls seem like fairies or angels to a boy lost in the woods. They rescue Otto and share the gifts of songs and a special harmonica.

The magical harmonica appears miraculously in three stories in Echo. Each is told from a different setting: Nazi Germany in 1934, a Pennsylvania orphanage in the early 40’s, and California during World War II. Each story introduces young protagonists who are relatable to the MG audience. Friedrich learns about prejudice towards “undesirables” like himself, born with a facial birthmark. Mike and his brother learn about home, while Ivy finds solace in her harmonica with war worries surrounding her Mexican-American family. All are exposed to prejudice.

Author Ryan blends genres with her extraordinary storytelling that brings these three young people unpredictably together. Music is the key for all three main characters. You won’t want to miss reading this novel. The title is never actually mentioned as a theme in the book, but you will see its meaning when you get to the last page.

Titles, book covers, and imaginative stories are what impact my reading. Amazon’s summary of Echo describes how I feel about all three books I share here. ” An impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force from a treasured storyteller.”

I hope you find Duet, Echo, and Loyalty titles valuable to your reading life.


Filed under Uncategorized

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!


Filed under Uncategorized

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!


Filed under Uncategorized

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.



Filed under Uncategorized

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!

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized


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!




Filed under Uncategorized

Reading, ‘Riting and Rumination

When you spend your year reading more than one book a week (novels, book club books, and children’s mysteries), they sometimes blend into each other.

When you begin a book, reading like a writer, the fun can evaporate.

When you find a book you must share with someone you know will appreciate the mystery, humor, the thrill of the writing, the plot, and the characterization, you keep savoring that gem.

When all those feelings emerge as you are on your reading challenge, your own writing, including your blog, suffers.

2017 was a whirlwind of reading and sharing books. I searched for memorable children’s mysteries and adult novels to sink into and share with others. Conferences, workshops, book clubs and critique sessions gave me ideas for my own writing and blog post surfing provided great writing advice.

Ok, Beth, stop ruminating and share!  The five best children’s mystery novels I read:

  1. The World’s Greatest Detective by Caroline Carlson
  2. Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarplay
  3. First Class Murder by Robin Stevens
  4. Vanished! by James Ponti
  5. The Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Those exemplary novels will appeal to children ages 8-12. Additionally, I read a few YA novels for 13-18 year old readers. I recommend The Shadow Cipher (York #1) for both ages, The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein and Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman.

Cannot end this post without some honorable mentions. Your students and grandchildren will enjoy Tom Angleberger’s Inspector Flytrap: The Goat Who Chewed Too Much, One for Sorrow, a deliciously scary ghost story by Mary Downing Hahn, Yours Truly by Heather Frederick, Masterminds: Payback by the prolific Gordon Korman, and Spy School: Secret Service by Stuart Gibbs.

Now I can concentrate on Cosy mysteries nominated for Agatha awards along with adult thrillers and literary fiction!

Happy Reading in 2018!



Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized