“This seems like a better way to channel money to librarians than my previous strategy, which was incurring exorbitant late fees,” Snicket says.
Doll Bones by Holly Black, illustrations by Eliza Wheeler
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, May 2013
Twelve-year-old Zach loves playing in imaginary worlds with his friends Poppy and Alice; using dolls and action figures to carry out adventures and quests in the magical worlds of their making. At least, he loved it until his father threw out his toys, declaring it was time for him to act more grown up. Zack is devastated, and his pain pulls him away from the things and people he loves most—until a strange thing happens that pushes the trio back together again, this time for a real quest.
Black captures the in-between world of adolescents perfectly, where they still want to be children but feel the tug of the adult world both internally and externally—this can be a painful experience, and Black does not shy away from it. Zach’s friendship with Alice and Poppy shifts and changes throughout the book, and Black explores the the dynamics with just the right amount of tension and humor. There are some issues I had, though with the reasons Zach had for not telling his friends about his father throwing out his toys—why would they be mad at him for something his father did? Ultmately, this did not get in the way of my enjoyment of the book. I love books that walk the line between reality and fantasy, and Doll Bones contains a good balance of these ingredients, blurring the line enough that readers are left to decide for themselves much of what is real and what is not—isn’t that the fun of reading a story after all?
What others have said: “Doll Bones positions itself to look like a simple ghost tale about a creepy doll, then sneaks in an engaging, thoughtful look at the ramifications of adolescence and storytelling. Consider this the thinking child’s horror novel.” - Elizabeth Bird in School Library Journal
Age range: 9-12
One Gorilla: A Counting Book by Anthony Browne
Published by Candlewick Press, February 2013
Anthony Browne is a former British Children’s Laureate who is known for his “strongly narrative watercolours that blend near-photographic realism with fantastical, surreal touches and ingenious visual puns” (source). He is true to form with this delightful, deceptively simple picture book. Each double-page spread features a different type of primate to count from chimpanzees to colobus monkeys and spider monkeys to lemurs. The subjects are presented in an incredibly realistic manner, but Browne imbues them with a twinkle of personality in their faces—this helps to further his point at the end that we have more similarities than we might realize: “All primates. / All one family. / All my family… / and yours!”
Age range: 3-7
The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore (illustrations by Jim Kay)
Published by Walker Books for Young Readers, January 2013
After Ephraim Appledore-Smith’s father has a stroke, his mother brings his family to “The Water Castle,” “a looming stone house” in Crystal Springs, Maine, a tiny town that is seemingly “about three thousand light-years from civilization.” The house has been in the Appledore family for over a century, and is fabled to have been the source of a spring that (perhaps) was a fountain of youth. Twelve-year-old Ephraim struggles to fit in at home (with a superstar older brother, Price, and a bookish younger sister, Brynn) and at school, where it seems like everyone is a genius. Mallory, the daughter of The Water Castle’s caretaker and Ephraim’s classmate, has struggles as well; her mother has recently moved out, and Mallory is both angry and scared of what her absence means. Along with Will, another sixth-grade student, the children try to understand the mysteries the Water Castle holds and the family resentments that it has borne throughout the years. Another story unfolds between the pages of the present-day drama—that of the eccentric Dr. Orlando Appledore and his young assistant, Nora Darling (a relative of Mallory’s) and their secret scientific research.
I absolutely loved this book. The plot is compelling, the characters so well-developed, and the wonderful, unexpected real-life touches, like the references to the polar expeditions of Peary, Henson, and Cook and Nikola Tesla and his rancor toward Edison. Blakemore’s nuanced approach to the science and the serious questions that the book raises—does science have an explanation for everything? What would be the benefit of living forever?—is excellent for a middle grade novel. This book would awaken an explorer’s heart in readers of every age for journeys both outward and inward.
What others have said: “Equally pleasing to science fiction and fantasy fans alike, there’s enough meat in this puppy for any smart child reader or bored kid bookgroup. I hope whole droves of them find it on their own. And I hope they enjoy it thoroughly. A book that deserves love.” - review by Elizabeth Bird from School Library Journal
Age range: 10-14