Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle

Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen was a nominee for the 2016-17 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Gabriel Finley’s father, Adam, has been missing for several years. Gabriel lives in Brooklyn with his aunt, but he never stops wondering what happened to his father. Soon, though, Gabriel will begin to solve the riddle of his missing father…and so much more.

When Gabriel discovers that he can communicate with ravens–who are the most intelligent of all the birds–secrets begin to be revealed. As it turns out, his dad shared this gift, and it could have something to do with his disappearance. Gabriel’s dad worked with his own raven companion, or amicus, to hide a powerful object from the valravens (cursed, fiendish birds) and their leader, Corax, a being who is half-man, half-valraven…and Gabriel’s uncle.

With the help of his own amicus, Paladin, and several friends, Gabriel begins to unravel the truth of what his uncle is seeking and the whereabouts of his father. The journey involves untangling riddles, battle with a magical, music-loving desk, and learning about the Finley family’s secrets. Gabriel is determined to find his way to his father, but forces are at work that are equally determined to stop him.

Is Gabriel ready to descend into Aviopolis, Corax’s horrifying domain, risking the lives of himself and his friends, to prevent Corax from ruling both above and below the surface? Will he be able to rescue his father, save himself and his friends, and defeat the evil Corax? Read Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle to find out!

The Iron Trial

The Iron Trial, book one in the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, is a nominee for the 16-17 South Carolina Children’s and Junior Book Awards.

What kid wouldn’t want magical powers? What kid wouldn’t want to attend the Magisterium, a super-secret school to learn how to use those abilities? Callum Hunt, that’s who.

For as long as Call can remember, his dad has told him that the Magisterium is evil and that he must do whatever it takes to fail the Iron Trial, a series of tests used to determine who earns a place at this magical school. And Call does his best to fail…and it looks like he’s succeeded. He fails spectacularly and gets the lowest possible marks at the Iron Trial…but he’s selected for the Magisterium anyway. Not only is he accepted; he’s with one of the best mages, in the group with the most gifted apprentices. What’s going on here? Why would anyone want him as an apprentice? What is so special about Callum Hunt, a kid with a bum leg who wants to be anywhere but here?

As Call begins his Iron year at the Magisterium and learns more about magic, he begins to wonder just what his dad had against the school and magic. Call is learning so much…and he’s actually getting pretty good at his studies, despite his rather horrible start. His fellow apprentices, Aaron and Tamara, soon become his closest friends, and that’s kind of a big deal to a kid who really didn’t have friends before now.

Call is becoming more and more comfortable with himself and his abilities, so he’s eager to learn just why his dad didn’t want him here. Since Call is a curious sort with a certain disregard for rules, Call begins to investigate. He stumbles upon a few things that might answer some questions…or they might create even more.

It seems that Call’s past is tied to the most feared being in the magical world, the Enemy of Death. This figure, cloaked in mystery, is responsible for the deaths of many, many mages–including Call’s mother–and he’s still out there, biding his time until he can use the forces of chaos to rise to power. The Magisterium has recently discovered its own weapon in the coming war with the Enemy…but will that be enough? What if the Enemy has already infiltrated the Magisterium? What will that mean for the Magisterium then? And what does all of this have to do with Call?

Soon, Call will come face-to-face with his past, his place at the Magisterium, and what it could mean for his future. He learns just why his father wanted to keep him from magic. What will Call do with this new and disturbing information? Time will tell…

A Snicker of Magic

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd was nominated for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

Felicity Pickle is a word collector. She sees words floating in the air, hovering around people’s heads, and zipping all around. She writes the words in her special blue book, and she carries the book with her everywhere. That includes Midnight Gulch, Tennessee.

Midnight Gulch, her mom’s hometown, is the Pickle family’s latest stop. Felicity’s mom has a wandering spirit, but Felicity is eager to call someplace home, and it seems like Midnight Gulch may just be the home she’s always wanted.

It is here that Felicity meets Jonah, a special boy who immediately becomes her best friend. Together, they learn about the magic that once existed in Midnight Gulch, and they try to figure out just how to bring that magic back.

Felicity soon discovers that the magic of Midnight Gulch is connected to her own family…and a mysterious curse that may be responsible for her mom’s wandering ways. If Felicity can figure out a way to break the curse, using the small snicker of magic still left in this small town, maybe she can finally have the home she’s always wanted.

But can Felicity overcome her own fears and break a curse that’s held Midnight Gulch in its grips for a century? Does she truly have the power–and the words–to make this place truly magical once again? Find out when you read A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd!

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff is a nominee for the 15-16 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

If a person’s name is his/her destiny, what is a kid supposed to do with a name like Rump? Young Rump knows there’s more to his name, but his mother died before revealing that little tidbit to anyone…so he’s known simply as Rump. This twelve-year-old boy, slight for his age, is a target for the town bullies, and he worries that his life will always be working to find gold in the mines and trading the greedy miller for whatever scraps of food he can get. But all that changes when he happens upon his mother’s old spinning wheel…

As luck would have it, Rump has inherited his mother’s ability to spin straw into gold, but using such powerful magic comes with a price. And for Rump, the price is a seemingly unbreakable curse. A curse that leads to a horrible bargain with the miller’s daughter. A curse that drives Rump from his home. A curse that he’ll do just about anything to break.

Rump goes on a quest to escape his wretched curse. Along the way, he encounters trolls (seriously misunderstood creatures), loads of pixies, a tree full of poison apples, and a family he never knew he had. He begins to realize just what his ability means and what it will take from him if he can’t get out of the magical, tangled rumpel he’s in.

And, wonder of wonders, there might just be a way out of this mess, but will Rump find what he needs–his true name–before it’s too late? Will this boy finally be the master of his own destiny, or is he doomed to be just Rump forever? Find out when you read Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff!


If readers are paying attention while reading Rump, they’ll see nods to several other stories, the most notable being Little Red Riding Hood. (Red is Rump’s best friend–and the source of an upcoming book.) Some other stories that pop up–in one way or another–are Snow White, Rapunzel, and Jack and the Beanstalk (which is the subject of Shurtliff’s latest book).

I think Rump is sure to be a hit with readers who love a good fairy tale, enjoy a bit of fantasy, and just want a good story. It’s great for readers in third grade on up, and I look forward to talking to my students about this enchanting story. I hope they are as fond of it as I am.

Journey

Journey by Aaron Becker is a nominee for the 2015-16 South Carolina Picture Book Award.

Journey, a wordless picture book, is an enchanting tale that highlights the power of imagination. It tells the story of a young girl who, using only a red crayon, journeys beyond the walls of her home (where no one pays attention to her) and into a magical place. She travels by boat, hot air balloon, and flying carpet, and she uses her wits (and some help from a special bird) to escape a fearsome ruler and find her way to a new friend.

Journey is an excellent book for units of study on wordless picture books. A fun writing exercise may be to have students make up their own narratives to go along with the pictures. This book may also be useful when studying various forms of transportation. How would students like to get from place to place if they had the choice? Like the girl in this book, students’ answers would only be limited by their own imaginations!

The Map to Everywhere

Fin, a young thief living in the treacherous land of Khaznot Quay, is a boy who is easily forgotten. Seriously. As soon as someone meets him, they forget he ever existed. Pretty handy if you’re a thief, especially one surrounded by pirates, con artists, and, well, other thieves. Not so much if you need help looking for something…or someone.

Marrill is a girl who’s just been handed a shock, and she’s trying to make sense of her new circumstances. That is going to be much more difficult after she sees a huge ship sailing through what was a parking lot just minutes ago. So what does Marrill, girl adventurer, do? She climbs aboard the ship…and quickly realizes that she can’t find her way back home.

Marrill does have a bit of hope, though. The ship she’s currently on is home to a wizard, Ardent, and his companion, Coll. This unlikely pair is looking for a mysterious map. The Map to Everywhere. This map will lead anyone wherever they need to go. So what’s the problem? Well, the map is in pieces, and it could be quite the quest to find the pieces and put them together. Marrill, Ardent, and Coll will have to navigate the magical waters of the Pirate Stream to even attempt their mission.

And that’s where Fin comes in…

Marrill and company sail into Khaznot Quay. After getting herself into a sticky situation, Marrill encounters Fin (who is also in a sticky wicket of his own). Unlike everyone else he’s ever met, Marrill actually remembers him, and Fin is eager to hold onto that tenuous connection to someone. He stows away on Marrill’s ride, and joins the crew’s search for the Map to Everywhere (an object that he’d also like to get his hands on).

Also, Fin would kind of like to get away from the Oracle, an evil wizard who spreads sorrow wherever he goes. Fin has something that the Oracle wants, and this shadowy figure will stop at nothing to claim his prize. It seems he is also searching for this powerful map, but what he wants to do with it could be devastating for everyone, everywhere.

Now, Marrill, Fin, Ardent, and Coll are on the hunt for the pieces of the Map to Everywhere, each for their own reasons. Can they work together to complete this dangerous puzzle before everything is torn from them? Will they succeed in their quest to bring the Map together, or will the Oracle beat them to it? Will Marrill ever find her way home? Will Fin find what he’s looking for? Nothing is certain, but one this is clear. We’re in for one heck of an adventure!

To learn more about this fantastical tale, go to http://www.themaptoeverywhere.com/.

 

The Vengekeep Prophecies

In The Vengekeep Prophecies, author Brian Farrey introduces readers to the Grimjinx family. This family of thieves is rather notorious in the town of Vengekeep, but no one can ever really prove that they’ve done anything wrong. Young Jaxter Grimjinx is supposed to be a master thief like everyone else in his family, but he has a bit of a problem. He’s clumsy. So clumsy that he can’t pick a simple lock. So clumsy that he sets a house on fire during his first solo job. A life of thievery doesn’t look promising for Jaxter.

But Jaxter is skilled at one thing that his family values. He can create natural mixtures that break low-level magical locks. Pretty handy when his family runs into trouble beyond their skills. And trouble is definitely on its way…more trouble than the Grimjinx clan has ever seen.

Each year, a tapestry is unveiled in Vengekeep that reveals a prophecy. This prophecy provides a sort of guide for the town on how they should proceed during the year–what troubles to avoid and the like. Well, this year, the tapestry is especially disturbing. It foretells the utter destruction of Vengekeep and essentially states that the Grimjinx family may be the town’s only salvation.

Jaxter knows his family isn’t really hero material, but they may not have an option this time. Even though they did so without intending to, the Grimjinx clan set events in motion that could actually level Vengekeep, and it’s up to them–or, more specifically, to Jaxter and his friend Callie–to set things right.

Jaxter and Callie set off on a mission to ultimately destroy the magic surrounding the tapestry. Their journey will be perilous, and they will encounter both friends and foes–and it won’t always be easy to tell the difference between the two.

Will Jaxter and Callie be able to get what they need before Vengekeep is destroyed, or will their efforts be for nothing? Will Jaxter Grimjinx be the savior Vengekeep needs, or will he be its ultimate end?