Monthly Archives: September 2020

Magyk

I put off reading this book for a while because it’s the start of a series, and lately I’ve been avoiding series. Especially with libraries closed/operating with modifications, it just makes more sense to not commit to a series. But I’m trying to accept that I don’t have to binge a whole series right in one go. It’s OK to try it and not finish it right away (though, then if I want to keep reading usually I have to reread what I’ve already read, which is why I usually don’t start a series until I’m ready to commit, so…).

Anyway, Magyk is the first book in the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage. On the night of his birth, Septimus Heap is whisked away from his family after being pronounced dead by the midwife. The same night, his father finds an abandoned baby girl and brings her home. Jenna is accepted as one of the family–not replacing their seventh son, but easing the loss some–until her 10th birthday, when things start to fall apart.

Jenna finds out her family isn’t actually hers, and now it’s her turn to be whisked away, supposedly out of danger but things go awry and Jenna finds herself right in the thick of everything. After all these years, it’s finally time to bring some secrets into the light and begin putting things to right.

Sage writes a fun and easy to read magical story. It’s filled with intrigue and twists, keeping readers engaged and trying to see where the story and characters are going. Some of her characters explore the idea of being villainous simply because of the environment they were raised in, which opens the door to exploring transformation when exposed to kindness and goodness.

If the first book is indicative of the series as a whole, it’s definitely one worth reading for kids (and adults) who enjoy the medieval fantasy genre. And since they are a little longer, they might last two days if you’re careful.

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Anyone who thinks kid’s books can’t deal with real topics needs to spend some time actually reading kid’s literature. Because in addition to being fun and logical, a lot of authors have the gift of taking serious stuff and translating it into easily-understandable content for kids. Trenton Lee Stewart did exactly this with The Mysterious Benedict Society

The book begins with Reynie and his tutor finding an ad in the newspaper seeking for gifted children to come and take a test. An orphan looking for something more, Reynie decides to go and see what it’s all about. After a series of tests, he finds himself with three other children comprising a team to take on the world’s Emergency. Their mission is to go undercover and learn the inner workings of the machine that is literally implanting thoughts into the minds of everyone. But the mission is dangerous, and the kids don’t yet know how to rely on each other. With the whole world at stake, they’re going to have to learn very quickly.

The Mysterious Benedict Society gave me some serious 1984 vibes. You can’t read the book and tell me that the messages being relayed aren’t the definition of doublethink. And though you would never expect middle grade kids to read 1984 and grasp the concepts, they can easily read The Mysterious Benedict Society and understand some of the same concepts.

The book moves along at a good clip, keeping readers interested and engaged. Stewart also uses the character of Sticky Washington (with photographic memory) to introduce potentially new words and facts to readers, using big words but easily defining them within the dialogue. The book also has strong themes of family (family is who you choose, not just blood), friendship, and teamwork. The children know from the very beginning of their mission that they will need to work together to succeed. However, they need to overcome hurdles and learn to accept who each other is in order to truly develop teamwork. And that process takes the whole story, which I appreciate.

All in all, it’s a great book for all ages. It’s fun, it’s twisty, it celebrates individuality and individual strengths, and it recognizes that growth is a journey.

Matilda

One thing I love about Roald Dahl is that he writes fun, easy books, but uses fantastic vocabulary. It’s just the right amount of challenge for young kids, especially those who want to learn some new and fancy words.

Matilda is exactly that young child, a young gifted girl whose parents don’t care one whit (in fact, today we’d call them abusive, so if you’re sensitive to that, consider this your trigger warning). After teaching herself to read and devouring tons of library books, Matilda finally finds herself in school way above all her fellow 5 and a half year olds. But the frightening headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, refuses to let Matilda move beyond her age group.

Desperate for a challenge and wanting to help her teacher, Miss Honey, Matilda uses her cleverness to concoct a plan to rid the school of the wretched Trunchbull and give Miss Honey the good things she deserves.

As I said, this is a fun book and easy to read, but does deal with some difficult moments of verbal abuse (and physical, I suppose, through the Trunchbull’s outrageous behaviors). Matilda is a smart, if sassy, child, and I suppose I can see now why my mother didn’t want that rubbing off on me as a kid.

Dahl’s characters all celebrate kindness (even Matilda, despite her mischief) and correcting wrongs. Those who are mean get their due, and the good guys win in the end. Sometimes it’s nice to read stories adhering to that simple guideline. And if that allows for some mischief committed in the name of the greater and common good, so much the better!

Matilda is a great book for all ages, though you may need to set some boundaries if you’re littles are inclined to mischief and sass.