Binny Bewitched by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Tony Ross (9781481491020, Amazon)
Binny’s family has been concerned with money since her father died. They live in a house that is far too small for all of them, her sister has sold all of her possessions to pay for flute lessons, and her mother works extra shifts all of the time. So when Binny sees a large amount of money left behind in an ATM, she grabs it and takes it. Does that make her a thief or just lucky? Binny soon discovers though that she can’t spend the money without others asking lots of questions. So she hides it, then hides it again and again until she can’t remember where she hid it! Meanwhile, Binny’s neighbor seems to be putting curses on all of them, like Clem’s flute breaking and James losing his best friend over buried treasure. As Binny realizes she has to be honest about the money, she has to find it first and figure out just who may have taken it.
This is the third Binny book and it’s just as charming and fantastic as the first two. McKay has a gorgeous way of writing, showing her characters and families complete with messy homes, money problems, and everyday woes. She always gives her characters lots of heart and big imaginations so that even normal days turn into adventures and bad decisions turn into mysteries.
As always, McKay’s families are ones that you want to spend even more time with. Readers will want to climb behind the couch with James, explore Clem’s bare but lovely room, share the birthday cake, and explore the beaches. The love in this family overflows the pages, even when they are distracted with their own problems. In fact, a hallmark of McKay’s books are that the children do the figuring out and realizations, not the adults. It’s a refreshing look at the power of children when they are given plenty of freedom.
Another winner from McKay! If you haven’t met Binny yet, make sure to start with the first since they are all such a treat. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Ross Macdonald (9781484717790, Amazon)
I was dozing in his office when 6 came in looking for help. 7 was after him! There was a rumor going around that 7 ate 9 and now he was coming for 6. So I went out to figure out what was going on. Following a series of clues after talking with letters and numbers, I deduced that 9 had disappeared but that 7 could not have eaten him since 7 was on vacation. Suddenly, I figured it all out and realized exactly what was going on in this topsy-turvy mystery.
Filled with puns and jokes, this picture book is a lot of fun. Using the framework of a vintage detective agency, this picture book borrows the lingo from that period as well, adding to the humor. Children may figure out the mystery along with I, but they may be surprised as well. No matter, the fun is in the language, the humor and the ride.
Macdonald’s illustrations allow the letters and numbers to pop on the page. They pay homage to vintage images using similar lines and colors. The letters and numbers have plenty of personality so they are distinct from one another as characters. Pay close attention to the small details as well. You wouldn’t want to miss the pi joke in the restaurant scene.
A mystery filled with humor, you can count on this to be a great read. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Disney-Hyperion.
The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby (9780062306937, Amazon)
This first book in a series introduces readers to an alternative New York City, filled with amazing machines built by the Morningstarr twins in the 1800’s. There are servant robots, skyscrapers, elevators that don’t just go up and down, beetle-machines that clean the roads, and many more. The Morningstarrs left behind a cipher to be solved that would lead to treasure, and even though people have worked for cipher for over fifty years, no solution has been found. Tess, Theo and Jaime live in one of the Morningstarr buildings that is unfortunately slated to be torn down. While their families scramble to find somewhere new to live, the three of them discover a potential new cipher that may lead them to the treasure and save the building they love. Now they just have to solve it.
Ruby has beautifully weaved an alternative New York City in this novel. She imagines it filled with amazing technology that has a magical element to it. It’s rather like magic-powered steampunk. She combines this with riddles and ciphers, puzzles to work out and then provides distinct villains to fight as well. The result is a book that is entirely delightful to read and impossible to put down as one new discovery immediately leads to another.
The three main characters are strongly written and offer a diverse cast. Tess keeps up and surpasses the boys at times, offering a strong feminist take on events as she does so. All of them are exceedingly bright in their own way, from being logical and sometimes robotic to looking at the world through art. There is a celebration of different intelligence types here that is great to see.
This mix of magic, technology, mysteries and ciphers is exceptional and just right for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Walden Pond Press.
Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk (9781101994856, Amazon)
The author of Wolf Hollow returns with her second novel for young people. This is a novel of the Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts where Crow has lived all of her life. She lives on a solitary island with Osh, the man who found her afloat in a little boat when she was a newborn baby. The others on the islands won’t associate with Crow, since they all assume that she came from a nearby island that was a leper hospital. Miss Maggie is the exception, she cares fiercely for Crow and makes sure that she learns what she needs to despite not being able to attend school. As Crow starts to piece together her own history, she exposes those she loves to new dangers that are far worse than the storms of nature they weather together.
Wolk once again has created a novel that brings a place to life. Here she has chosen the Elizabeth Islands and the islands themselves feature prominently in the story both in terms of their isolation but also in their beauty. The islands serve as shelter, home, a source of fuel and food, and a community as well. The island with the hospital for lepers insures that Crow is even more isolated than the rest of the community due to the questions of her past. It’s a brilliant setting, one of the best that I have ever read where each page is a reflection of the sea and the islands.
Crow is a dazzlingly great heroine. She is strong and independent, determined to figure things out even as those around her give up. She pieces together clues from the mystery of her past, a mystery that permeates the entire novel even after it is solved. Crow is anxious to learn of her history and throughout the novel explores questions of identity and family of love and betrayal. It’s a novel that swirls and eddies, displaying beauty and dangers in turn.
This is a beautifully written and deep novel for middle grade readers who will long to visit Crow’s island themselves. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Dutton Books for Young Readers.
Sophie Someone by Hayley Long (9780763689957, Amazon)
Sophie can vaguely remember leaving England on a train with her mother when she was a small child. Now Sophie is fourteen and her family has been in Belgium since they left England. She attends school, has a best friend and knows how to speak several languages. Her father owns a car service station, she has a new little brother born in Belgium and things seem normal. But her mother won’t leave the apartment and a strange man comes to her father’s shop and calls him by a different name. As Sophie starts to piece things together, she will have to travel back to England to figure the entire puzzle out and find out who she truly is.
Long has written this novel for teens in code as Sophie tries to stop anyone from publishing her story if they find it. The coding is a fascinating layer to the story, creating a puzzle for the readers even as Sophie is unravelling her own. Readers will grow better and better at figuring out the code, allowing the story to shine through the puzzle. The writing beyond this layer is deft and the mystery is incredibly rich. Readers will be able to figure it out before Sophie does, but questions linger that continue the riveting nature of the novel.
Sophie herself is a strong and smart heroine. As she pieces the mystery together, she uses her intelligence but also has a strong streak of optimism and hope as she faces the truth about her family. Her ability to not only face the unknown but seek it out and discover things is noteworthy. Even as she discovers that she is not the person she thought she was, Sophie does not fall apart. She faces the future with a new clarity and understanding.
An unusual and fascinating novel, it grips you right from the beginning and won’t let you loose until the final pages. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.
The winners of the 2017 Edgar Awards have been announced. The two award winners for juvenile categories are:
OCDaniel by Wesley King
BEST YOUNG ADULT
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
A Case in Any Case by Ulf Nilsson (9781776571086)
This is the third and last book in the Detective Gordon mystery series. In this book, Gordon has retired and Buffy is now the only detective in the police station. Buffy starts hearing strange noises in the middle of the night. She’d love to have Gordon back to help solve the mystery of the scrabbling noises in the night. Meanwhile readers discover that Gordon is getting restless in retirement and that at night he heads to the police station to check on Buffy, making the noises that are scaring her. When a new case arrives, the two police officers are soon working together again to figure out what has happened to two little kindergarten animals who have disappeared. Yet Gordon can’t quite tell Buffy that it was him scaring her at night.
This Swedish early chapter book series has been a joy to read and share from the very first. While it is sad to see the series end, it goes out on a high note that finishes the series off with a solid win. Once again Gordon and Buffy are back, their dynamic maturing and growing as they work more together. The mystery here is serious and compelling as the detectives work to piece together where two young animals have gone and whether they are in danger. Readers get to see that the children are playing and safe, but the detectives don’t know that. It’s a smart way to make the mystery appropriate for young children. As with the entire series there is a focus on fairness, kindness and honesty throughout the book.
Spee’s illustrations add to the appeal of the series. The full color images make the book more approachable for children moving into chapter books. They also depict the forest world that the characters live in with lovely details like toadstools, flowers, and insects in the air. The autumnal feel of the book works well as a series closer as well, with sunset coloring throughout.
A wonderful ending to a top notch series, make sure to start from the beginning! And maybe have some cake on hand to munch along. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Gecko Press.
The Mystery Writers of America have announced the nominees for their Edgar Awards. Here are the nominees in the juvenile categories:
The Bad Kid by Sarah Lariviere
Framed! by James Ponti
OCDaniel by Wesley King
Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand
Summerlost by Ally Condie
Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry by Susan Vaught
The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
Thieving Weasels by Billy Taylor
Three Truths and a Lie by Brent Hartinger
City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson (9780399547584)
Tina has returned to the place where her mother was murdered to destroy the man she knows killed her. An experienced thief, she must break into one of the most highly guarded and defended homes in Sangui City, Kenya. But things do not go as planned and Tina is discovered by the son of the family, someone she had once been close childhood friends with. The two of them begin to work together to solve the mystery of her mother’s murder, Tina to prove the father guilty and his son to prove him innocent. Their search for the truth will take them back to Congo, the place that Tina and her mother fled as refugees. Soon Tina is learning more about her mother than she ever knew, pieces to the puzzle of her life and death. Danger is ever-present in their journey and in solving this mystery even more secrets need to be defended and exposed.
From the very first page, Anderson draws readers into this African murder mystery. Filled with tension and threat, this novel also shows the life of a refugee in Africa, the beauty of small village life in the dangerous Congo, the risks of traveling into a country at war, and the wealth that can be made by spilling blood. The setting is amazing, moving from Sangui City and its urban gangs to Congo village life, each is drawn with precision and both are filled with beauty and menace.
Tina is a fully drawn character in search of the truth. She knows who killed her mother and she is driven primarily by revenge. The book’s pacing is exactly right, allowing readers to experience the various settings and Tina’s changing situations fully as each clue and piece of information is revealed leading them onward. Tina is a great mix of intelligence, cunning and force. She is a criminal with a cause, a character that is compellingly written and understandable.
A thriller of a teen novel, this book has a unique setting and one dynamic female protagonist bent on revenge. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.