INCREDIBLE JOURNEYS THIS SUMMER: Middle Grade Books


Previously: With summer holiday plans changing dramatically, travel limited and 'stay-cations' looking like the norm this year, lockdowns and home/online-schooling are leaving us all in need of a break; especially the young people in our lives. Social distancing and isolation are causing a new and different type of stress, but I have to say, the kids have been real heroes. They need to be uplifted now more than before; they need to know there are still adventures to be had, friends are still out there and life is still vibrant and exciting. 
Books offer many opportunities for young people (well, all of us really) to "get away from it all" and experience life in the realms of the imagination. Whether you're crossing the border into an unknown, magical land, delving into the depths of an historical world or looking at your own surroundings under unusual circumstances, books make any holiday or stay-cation memorable. Here are a few of my very best recommendations that 'middle-grade' ground. Oh, grown-ups...you'll love them, too:
Celine Kiernan has wrapped up her Wild Magic Trilogy magnificently with The Promise Witch. Yes, we bid farewell to the Raggedy Witches as the endless winter has gone, giving way to the warmth of springtime and its' natural green magic. But this doesn't last long. The Old Queen, far away in hiding where no one can find her, has cast another wicked spell bringing searing, scorching heat, the river dried to a dusty pathway and fear and discord running rampant in the kingdom once again. There is only one way to end this. Mup must fulfill a promise and take a perilous journey to face her grandmother once and for all. I have so much love and enthusiasm for all the Wild Magic Trilogy. It is magic brought to the page. The Promise Witch is a must read...now! (If you haven't read Begone the Raggedy Witches and The Little Grey Girl, what are you waiting for?)
Speaking of witches, Wilde by Eloise Williams follows the path of a young girl who has been kicked out of another school on purpose. When Wilde arrives at her aunts' house in Witch Point, she desperately hopes to leave the plague of strange events behind her and start fresh...to just be normal. But these strange occurrences seem to follow her wherever she goes; and hey're getting worse. Wilde is forced to join the end of year play. When the other students start getting threatening letters signed 'The Witch' during rehearsals which curse them with their greatest fears, there can be no doubt that Wilde is to blame. And small towns have long memories and dark pasts. Wilde must uncover the identity of the letters' true author, or suffer the same fate as a witch called Winter. Filled with superstition, curious happenings and hope, it is brave, magical and utterly wondrous.
Let's step away from the witches for a moment and come back to a different kind of enchantment. Here In The Real World by Sara Pennypacker is a song (of a book) dedicated to those who live their lives with a different perspective; to the introverts and the dreamers. When Wares' grandmother has an accident, he finds himself staying at home for the summer and, to his horror, enrolled in Rec camp so he can have "meaningful social interactions" and participate in activities that "normal" kids engage in. But Ware sneaks away over the fence and on to the grounds of a derelict church. He meets Jolene, a tough girl growing a garden in the dusty ground and envisions the church as his castle, becoming the Knight he has always wanted to be and pledging to live a purpose-filled life doing what is Right and Honourable. But this isn't Magical Fairness Land; this is the Real World... filled with details about the natural world and delving into the heart and imagination to find it is possible to be who you really are, this is a quietly glorious and graceful adventure.
Nicola Pierce takes us on an eerie, haunting, seafaring journey into the past, embarking on the ill-fated exploration to discover the Northwest Passage in the mid-1800s. Chasing Ghosts follows the mission of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror as they set out across the Arctic seas with their inexperienced crew, aging captain Sir John Franklin and second-in-command Francis Crozier. Ill-prepared for the conditions that greet them, as the ice closes in, no one can guarantee their return of rescue. And when, in 1849, 4-year-old Weesy Coppin succumbs to a fever, her family, locked in grief over her death, discover that her spirit has not left them...and that she is trying to tell them something. As the two separate events collide in the most unlikely twist of fate, the truth will come to light...if anyone has the courage to see it. Atmospheric, articulate, wonderful imaginative and impossibly true historical fiction...at its' best.
In Gaelic Spirit by Gerard Siggins, we find a brilliant story for the sports-mad young ones in our lives as we set off on another Eoin Madden Adventure. Eoin is home in Tipperary for the summer holidays. There's no rugby over the summer, so Eoin and his friends head off to Ormondstown GAA club to get involved in hurling and the football team. Before you know it, they are travelling cross county to go up against some of the best GAA teams. And it isn't long until Eoins' other-worldly friend and mentor, Brian Hanrahan turns up. But this time, he's accompanied by the ghost of Michael Hogan who died at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday 100 years before. It seems trouble is headed Eoins' way, along with a deeper understanding of an historical tragedy. Sports and history are woven together in what is, simply a great adventure.
Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick takes us along on the Year 6 school trip to the brand new Crater Lake Activity Centre with Lance, his friends and the rest of the class. But something really strange is happening here. Maybe it's the bloodied man who tries to stop them from entering or the lack of welcoming staff. Or perhaps it's that everyone is locked in their dorm rooms from the outside at night and exposed to a noxious gas while they sleep. Caught up in a mystery that began thousands of years ago when a meteor plunged itself deep into the crater, the group find themselves fighting a swarm of weird enemies for survival. They may not know much, but they know they must never, EVER fall asleep. Cleverly written, fast-paced, gripping...this is the mystery-adventure you've been waiting for.
Atmospheric descriptions of 19th-century England, an eerie household and the ticking of a multitude of clocks set the scene perfectly in The House of One Hundred Clocks by A M Howell. Helenas' father has been appointed clock-winder to one of Englands' wealthiest men, Mr Westcott. But there's one catch. The clocks must never stop, or Helena and her father will lose absolutely everything. Entering their new home, Helena finds a sinister situation; a house stuffed to the rafters with clocks of all kinds, drawings appearing pinned to the walls, a strange, ghostly child, a warning left in a pocket watch, a family about to end up in the workhouse. The Westcott family is not at all what they seem. When it appears an act of sabotage will take everything from them, Helena bands together with some new-found friends to uncover the truth and save them all. But her beloved parrot, Orbit has escaped and time is running out. Utterly charming  and captivating with a keenly felt sense of friendship, family ties and time; a brilliant journey across Cambridge and time.
Now we return to magic with the marvelous story, The Last Spell Breather by Julie Pike. Published last summer, this book has captured my imagination as we glide through a strange kingdom in the grip of a strange curse. Spell Breathing is the only thing that keeps the village safe from the monster curse that plagues the world. And Spell Breathing does not come easily to Rayne. As her mothers' apprentice, she spends long hours learning spells, transcribing scrolls and examining a spellbook filled with grosteques that snap and bite. One day, an action taken in an ill-tempered, clumsy mood breaks the fragile magic, bringing the monsters thundering in, endangering everyoneRayne sets off across a treacherous landscape to find the Great Library, and her mother with the broken spellbook, Tom (who resents magic) and a fox conjured by the Spell of Finding to set things right. But when she arrives, awaiting her is threat greater than she could imagine. Flawless writing, a touch of humour and a unique enchanted landscape combine for an unparalleled tale that is also a testament to the power of words.
Books filled with enchantment and magic of one sort or another really add spark to time away or at home. And these are the ones I'll be dipping back into for my summer 'holiday.' I may not be going away, but I am travelling to the most marvelous places. Join me!
(I'll be back with more great books to help you along this truly unusual summer another day. In the meantime, stay safe, stay well.)

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