Tag Archives: children’s books

Bridge of Souls: A fun way to get that paranormal fantasy fix

The third installment of V.E. Schwab’s Cassidy Blake series was recently released, and I wasted no time requesting a copy from my local library. Despite being children’s fiction, I have loved the series. Children’s books can be a great change of pace in reading, plus a lot of them are tremendously well written.

Bridge of Souls finds Cass and her family in New Orleans, once again filming for her parents’ paranormal show. When they left Paris, Cass saw a frightening figure and she hoped she left it behind. But they haven’t been in New Orleans long when she realizes that whatever it is, it’s still following her. Teaming up with steadfast Jacob and knowledgeable Lara, Cass finds out what it is that’s following her and comes up with a risky plan to defeat it. But the price of her safety could be losing one of her friends, and that thought is more than she can bear.

I read this book in one day. In Schwab’s style, she grabs the reader and launches us in headfirst. The action starts on page one and continues along at a fast pace until the very end. Each of Schwab’s three main characters are different in personality, and she does an excellent job of writing each one as an individual.

This is exactly the kind of book I would have recommended to kids looking for scary books. Sometimes creepy and dark, it’s probably something that would have freaked me out as a kid. But as an adult, I love it. It’s just the right amount of paranormal mixed in with plenty of fantasy. And the varied locations stir up an appreciation for history, as well as the desire to get out and see it for myself.

While the series as a whole might deter some readers (or parents) who don’t want to fill their kids’ heads with thoughts of ghosts and emissaries of death, I think Schwab did a great job of taking paranormal subject matter and toning it down for kids, creating an exciting series that’s sure to entertain them. She doesn’t touch much on rituals and she avoids the demonic side of the occult. The series is just fun, the experiences of a young girl who almost died and now can step into the in-between and see the ghosts that are lingering.

Tunnel of Bones: A playful paranormal story set in Paris

V.E. Schwab’s second book in the Cassidy Blake series explores a new city and a new supernatural challenge.

Still traveling with her parents as they film their TV show, Cassidy finds herself in Paris. And while the veil presses and pulls at her, so far she’s able to maintain control. But it doesn’t take long for Cass to start feeling chills and experiencing inexplicable accidents. Drawing on Lara’s knowledge–and ghostly mentor–Cass finds out she’s somehow woken a poltergeist. And if she isn’t able to help him remember who he was and send him on, he will progress from mischief to menace to mayhem, and all of Paris could pay the price.

In her classic style, Schwab writers her villains in a way that forces readers to relate and sympathize with them, at least a little. Though Cass has to engage in the fight to protect herself, it becomes compassion that motivates her to put the past to rest. Writing in first person allows Schwab to get inside Cass’s mind and let readers really get to know the character, which I like.

Since it’s written for kids, this series is a little more creepy than scary, which means it perfect for readers like me who aren’t really into full horror but still like to feel chilled every now and then. Overall, it’s a fun series for all ages.

Becoming Dr. Seuss: An exploration of the good and the bad from our favorite children’s author

If you’ve been on the Internet in recent months, you’ll be aware that people have been up in arms over the Seuss estate allowing a few older titles to go out of print. My growing irritation with people completely (and willfully, in some cases) misunderstanding what’s gone on led me to finally picking up a Dr. Seuss biography. Becoming Dr. Seuss Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination by Brian Jay Jones, one of the more recent Seuss biographies, seemed to be the logical choice, as it had the potential to touch on the topic of caricatures that has landed Seuss in hot water, now and in the past.

Geisel never set out to be a children’s book author and actually got his start in college humor magazines and advertising campaigns. He learned most of his storytelling skills from his work in the U.S. Army, working on propaganda during World War II. When he did decide to write for kids, he got off to a slow start, until The Cat in the Hat launched him into the spotlight, revolutionizing children’s primers. Seuss ultimately became the leader of several imprints within Random House Publishing, focused on writing books that teach kids both to love reading as well as how to do it.

And while many of us would love to make a hero out of this favorite author, the reality is that Geisel had several black marks against him. Throughout his years cartooning he never balked at using misogyny as the punchline of his jokes and during World War II actually used his cartoons to support and promote Japanese-American internment. Added to this was his embracing of the era’s common practice of racist caricaturing within cartoons and drawings. But, as he aged, Geisel himself came to acknowledge that, while acceptable for the time, not everything he’d drawn was tasteful and appropriate. And though he perhaps wasn’t as public about it as we’d expect of someone today, I believe his work shows the growth and change of mindset Geisel experienced.

Jones draws from a vast array of research and content to paint a comprehensive picture of Geisel’s life, and he doesn’t try to cover up some of Geisel’s shortcomings. It’s an engaging book that goes beyond just Dr. Seuss–or rather, explores various experiences that made him who he was. Touching on cartoon crusades, propaganda creation, author-publisher relationships, the revolution of children’s primers and the birth of several well-known imprints, readers get knowledge on a lot more than just the man who illustrated many of our childhoods.

I did feel like the book was lacking in visuals, though. A 400+ page book and it only contained eight pages of photos and illustrations. Whether it was too much of an expense to get the rights or they didn’t want to trim the book to make room for more, I felt like this was a lost opportunity, especially when considering many people are unaware of Geisel’s art outside of Seuss books.

While this already-published book can’t touch on the foolish drama of 2021, it’s interesting to see that Jones does touch on the topics in general–in fact, this isn’t the first time some of these titles have been in the hot seat because of problematic illustrations and words.

Knowing this, and knowing that some of the books have already been changed to be more politically correct, it definitely highlights the idea that these books, while containing problematic content, have been retired more because of lack of sales. If the books were still selling well, they’d most likely take them back to the drawing board, as they have done before.

I’ve kept my silence on this topic because I’m inclined to believe that most people aren’t actually interested in learning and dialoguing but just want something to be up in arms about (and I’m jealous of that energy. I’d like to channel some of it just to help me get through my daily to-do list.). But I’ll throw a couple thoughts out here.

First, these titles have not been censored or banned. They’ve been allowed to go out of print. And, surprise, this happens to books all the time. Ever try to go to a bookstore and buy the random books you read as a kid (not the classics everyone read, the random ones no one else was reading)? The reason you can’t find them is because they went out of print. The demand to publish wasn’t there. That’s all that’s happened here, except the Seuss estate used it as an opportunity to stand against caricatures and problematic content in the books (and if you don’t know, I worked for 5+ years in book sales, so I can attest to the fact that these retired titles were no where near bestsellers, they didn’t even compete with other Seuss titles).

Second, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about preserving history and keeping examples so that people know what’s not appropriate to do (and not just about Seuss). And I think it’s a really weak argument, especially for this situation. Seuss engaged in the kinds of jokes and drawings he did because they were the fare of the era. By keeping them around and sharing them with kids, it indicates there’s something of value to them. And while we can debate whether there is academic value in preserving them in a historical way to see how we’ve improved (and I believe there’s a compelling case there), we don’t need any more reasons for kids to draw lines of division among themselves. There will be plenty of hurtful childhood antics without contributing to it by continuing to provide them with stories that make differences seem funny, abnormal, or bad.

In the end, when someone tells us something is problematic or hurtful, we don’t get to tell them they are wrong. The response we should have is one of dialogue, hearing their concern and doing better. Too often the people fighting against the action are the ones who haven’t been hurt by it or anything similar. And just because we can’t understand the experience doesn’t mean we can write it off. Why wouldn’t we improve when given a concrete place to start?

City of Ghosts

I thought it was bad enough working at a bookstore and coming home with all these new books I wanted to read. Now that I’m back in the world of libraries, all the books I already have are definitely going to feel neglected as I gallivant off with other attractive books.

But there’s just something special about binging all the books by a favorite author. I haven’t really done it since I was a teenager, and V.E. Schwab’s stories are calling.

City of Ghosts is the first in Schwab’s Cassidy Blake series. Cassidy is far from a normal teenager– after drowning and coming back, she’s found she has access into the Veil, the world between this one and the next. It’s sometimes creepy but never really dangerous, at least not until she travels to Edinburgh with her ghost-hunting parents.

In Scotland, Cassidy learns that her gift is about more than jaunts into the in-between, and not all ghosts are harmless. Her gift could put her very life in danger through an end much worse than mere death.

Though this is a book written for middle grade kids, Schwab does a great job of writing a gripping and interesting story that seems to tie in to her Villains series and ExtraOrdinary people.

Schwab builds her story with background and character history, establishing them before throwing them into danger, and I like this about her writing. It make me feel like I’m already friends with the character before things get tough.

City of Ghosts proves that Schwab’s masterful storytelling isn’t limited to one age group, but that she can write for anyone and engage everyone. And the threads she weaves throughout the story, to continue in the next book(s), grip her readers and keep them coming back.

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.

Curse of the Boggin

I am quite enjoying the simplicity of children’s books, lately. And I don’t mean that the books or plots are simple, because they are as engaged and twisty as some adult books, but it’s nice to have good guys and bad guys, right and wrong, and to be able to actually like the protagonist. And also, they are just fun and easy to read.

D.J. MacHale’s Curse of the Boggin is the first in the Library Book series. Marcus O’Hara lives a normal life, until the day when he doesn’t. At first he thinks he’s imagining things, or maybe hallucinating. He’s seeing things that can’t be real. But soon he has to accept that ghosts, hauntings, and even monsters are real, because he’s experienced all of them. Armed with a mysterious key that takes him to a strange, other-dimensional library, Marcus and his friends need to find a way to put and end to his haunting and conclude a story that started long before they were involved.

This is exactly the kind of book I would have loved as a kid (and still love as an adult). It’s got mystery, suspense, a little bit of drama, all combined to make a fast-paced adventure. It’s easy to read, written in a conversational way, no highfalutin words or unnecessarily complex structures.

Curse of the Boggin was a fun read, and I’m probably going to end up reading other books in the series, just because it’s a nice break from the adult fare. So whether you’re looking for a fun and slightly spooky book for kids, or the same for adults, this might be the way to go.

Ogre Enchanted

Don’t you ever wish life were like a fairy tale, and even when you get cursed and things go to pot, you know it’ll all work out in the end and love will prevail? Yeah, me too. That’s why I read kids books sometimes.

Ogre Enchanted is a fun, lighthearted fairy tale by Gail Carson Levine (author of Ella Enchanted). Evie is a young healer very dedicated to her work. When her best friend Wormy proposes to her, he throws a wrench in everything because Lucinda, a meddling fairy, just loves to hang around and present gifts (or curses) upon proposals. When Evie declines Wormy’s proposal, Lucinda jumps into action, transforming Evie into an ogre. Now, Evie has only 62 days to get another proposal, or she’ll be an ogre forever.

Evie sets out to find a band of ogres to teach her how to use ogre persuasion, the only way Evie will be able to secure another proposal! But as she traverses the kingdom, desperately trying to preserve both her life and her humanity, she finds it’s going to be even more difficult to secure a proposal than she imagined. As time ticks by, Evie begins to wonder, if she’s stuck as an ogre forever, will she still be able to find a way to heal people?

Ogre Enchanted was a quick little read, as I expected. A tale of love and discovery, the bad guys are bad and the good guys are good. Sometimes it’s just so nice to come back around to a classic fairy tale and enjoy the story, not put all your brain power into the plotting. Levine takes readers on a journey through the kingdom of Kyrria, full of adventures as Evie both seeks a lover to break her curse and also how to accept life if she remains an ogre.

One refreshing thing about this book is how Evie isn’t a damsel in distress (though, neither was Ella, so this may be Levine’s style) but she also wasn’t caught up in her own predicament. She sought a solution, but even as she did, she accepted the reality that she’d likely be stuck as an ogre and made plans to account for that. I can very much relate to the worse-case scenario planner in Evie.

I forgot how much I enjoy Levine’s writing (even though I’ve only read two books). She’s just a fun, easy read. Even if it’s not mental gymnastics to guess the plot, it’s so easy to get caught up in the story. I can’t think of any better way to describe it than just delight in the reading.

So if you’re looking for a delightful book that reminds you to slow down and be a friend to your inner child, read this (or any of her books). It’ll be fun.

 

His Dark Materials Novellas

I never bothered to read any of the novellas Philip Pullman wrote that tie in to the His Dark Materials series. But after re-reading the series and watching the HBO show, I felt some interest.

Once Upon a Time in the North is the story of how Lee Scoresby met Iorek Byrnison and their first adventure together. Newly in possession of his balloon, Scoresby finds himself in an isolated arctic town and in the thick of a deadly fight. Always one to help the underdogs, Scoresby agrees to help a ship’s captain defy the oil magnate controlling the town and load his detained cargo. But it’s gonna take more than Scoresby and his gun to get the ship underway.

This was a quick little read that filled in some of the history Pullman hints at in the series. And it’s a fun way to dip back in to Pullman’s world without going all the way back through the series.

In Lyra’s Oxford, Lyra has returned from her adventures and has taken up studies at St. Sophia’s. When a witch’s dæmon comes to her for help, Lyra can’t keep from getting involved. But her trusting innocence may yet be her undoing.

This story was a little less interesting, as it didn’t tie in to the history of the series but was more a little snapshot at Lyra’s life after the North. But it was only 50 pages, so worth reading if you’ve got a hankering for just a little bit more of Lyra’s story.