The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore
After Ephraim’s father has a stroke, the family moves to the Water Castle, an ancestral home in Crystal Springs, Maine. Ephraim is convinced that coming from the big city, he will be more popular and seem smarter than he ever had before. After all, his older brother has always been popular and his little sister is very smart. But things don’t work out the Ephraim expects. The house itself is unusual, filled with strange rooms and different levels; it glows blue at night and hums. Ephraim is definitely not popular, quickly showing how awkward he is and then also demonstrating how little he knows compared to his classmates. Luckily though, the mystery of the house draws in two other children his age who want to figure out how their own families are tied to the Water Castle and its connection to the Fountain of Youth.
Blakemore writes with a wonderful mix of science and fantasy here. The blend is compelling, making the book impossible to put down until the mystery is solved. Readers will not know if they are reading a fantasy book or one that could have actually happened until the very end. Told with flashbacks to the past that add to the understanding of the intertwined families as well as the fascination with explorers, this book is complex in the best of ways, keeping readers guessing right up to the end.
Ephraim is a character that has quite a few flaws. Readers will flinch as he is too brash and too confident for his own good, especially when trying to make friends. Happily, it is when he calms down and shows his feelings that Ephraim becomes entirely himself, a side that readers see long before the other characters in the book.
Complex and multilayered, this middle grade book will be embraced by historical fiction, science and fantasy fans. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan
Octopus lives in a bustling reef filled with all sorts of sea life. She watches the activity from her cave and three little seahorses come and visit her. But Octopus just wants to be left alone, so she changes colors to hide and heads away from the reef. As she travels away, the seahorses continue to follow her, watching her change colors and hide until Octopus finally leaves in a cloud of ink. Eventually, Octopus comes to a very quiet part of the ocean where she can be left in peace with only silent jellyfish floating by and the drama of a whale zooming to the surface. Nothing bothers her or watches her, so she falls fast asleep. When she awakens, she starts to think about life in the bustling reef and she returns, ready to play once again.
This is a shining example of a book where the writing and illustrations work seamlessly with one another. The story of an introverted octopus who just needs a little time alone will speak to children who also feel that way at times. Best of all, there is no lesson learned where being alone is dangerous or wrong, instead it is embraced as a time to see other beautiful things and recharge. This is one undersea world where quietness and alone time is just fine, perhaps even spectacular.
The art in this picture book shines and glows. Octopus and the other sea life pop against the dark blues and blacks of the watery background. The art has a wonderful internal light that gives it a real sense of being underwater. When Octopus heads out to be alone, the moment when she sees the whale is one of the most powerful and beautiful in the book. It is handled with a lovely pause in the text and bubbles galore in the illustrations.
This is one glorious look at an underwater world that will speak to introverts and children who may feel shy at times. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Viking.