The False Prince

The kingdom of Carthya is on the verge of war. The king, queen, and crown prince have all been murdered, and one man, Conner, has a plan to place a “false prince” on the throne–a boy who will take the place of Prince Jaron, the long-lost second son of the king and queen. He just needs to find the right boy. He searches local orphanages, and four boys are initially chosen to vie for the title of future king. One of those boys is Sage. From the beginning, Sage is hard to control. He wants nothing to do with Conner’s plan…until he realizes that failure means certain death.

It’s not always easy for sage to toe the line with Conner. He gets into considerable trouble and is punished severely. Eventually, though, Sage does what he must to convince Conner that he is the boy who should be prince, but he wonders what Conner isn’t telling him and the other boys. Why is he so sure that Prince Jaron is dead when his body was never found? What does Conner have to gain by placing an imposter on the throne? What will really happen to the boys who are not chosen for this role? Yes, Conner definitely has his secrets–some of them deadly–but he’s not the only one who’s keeping secrets. Sage knows that someone else has secrets that could turn Conner’s many plans into nothing but ash…

As Sage attempts to learn all he can to pass for the missing prince, he’s also on a quest to discover just what is going on around him. Is there anyone he can truly trust? And how will Conner, the other boys, and those he’s grown close to react when Sage’s many secrets are revealed? How will the revelation impact Conner’s plans for the throne? Discover the truth when you read The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen!

Touch Blue

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord, a nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, is one of the fastest reads I’ve had in a while.  I finished this book in just a couple of hours.  Despite its length, however, Touch Blue packed an emotional wallop.  The main character, eleven-year-old Tess, has a perfectly realistic voice, and, even though some readers, especially in South Carolina, will be unable to relate to the setting of this book (an island off the coast of Maine), they will find a relatable character in Tess.

In order to keep their island school from closing–and losing many of the island’s inhabitants to the mainland–some of the residents of Bethsaida Island agree to take in foster children to increase enrollment at the school.  Tess’ family is one of those taking in a new kid.

As Tess and her little sister Libby eagerly await the arrival of thirteen-year-old Aaron, Tess is filled with visions of what it will be like to have an older brother.  She’s sure that it will be great, and she’s excited to have someone close to her age around.  She’s not, however, prepared for the emotional baggage that Aaron brings with him.  He’s justifiably moody and unsure of his new surroundings, and he resists all of Tess’ attempts to get closer to him.

Tess tries everything she can think of to help Aaron feel like he belongs, including a few things thought to bring good luck (like touching something blue to make a wish come true).  Gradually, Aaron feels more comfortable on the island–he plays his trumpet in the July 4th celebration, he helps Tess restore her boat, and he goes lobster-trapping with Tess and her Dad–but Tess knows that he’s holding back.  Aaron misses his mom, and he wants to get back to her.  Tess tries to convince Aaron that he belongs with her family, but it may take something drastic to make him believe he’s important to them.

Will Tess be able to help Aaron accept his new life and family, or will all of her wishing leave her with nothing?  Read Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord to find out.

I really enjoyed this book, and I plan to recommend it to all of my students in 3rd through 5th grades.  Middle grade readers may enjoy it as well.  I’m hoping that my students will be interested in the books that Tess alludes to throughout Touch BlueThe Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson, Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  I love how Tess relates her relationship with Aaron to those of the characters in these beloved books.

If you’re looking for a super-fast, moving, and heart-warming summer read, I highly recommend Touch Blue.  At its core, it is a story about what it means to truly belong and how a person creates his or her own luck.  This book is perfect for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider–and who hasn’t?

For more information on this book and others by Cynthia Lord, visit http://www.cynthialord.com/.

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall

Mary Downing Hahn is known for her ghost stories.  My students at school know to go to the H section in fiction if they want a good spooky tale, and they’ve already begun to devour The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, one of Hahn’s newest books.  This book, which takes place in the late 19th century, is one that will definitely appeal to children, especially those in 4th grade on up, who like their fiction with a bit of terror thrown in.

Florence Crutchfield, a twelve-year-old living in a London orphanage, gets the surprise of her life when she’s sent to live with her great-uncle at his country manor house, Crutchfield Hall.  Life at Crutchfield Hall is very different from Florence’s time at the orphanage.  She has a warm place to sleep, and there’s always enough food.  Florence’s uncle is happy to have her there, but her aunt seems to hate her on sight.  Why is there so much animosity from her aunt?  What could Florence have possibly done to deserve so much hatred?

Well, it seems that Florence’s aunt, a crazed and bitter woman, thinks Florence is trying to replace Sophia, Florence’s young cousin who died in a horrible accident nearly a year ago.  Aunt Eugenie makes Florence’s life miserable and constantly compares her to the seemingly perfect Sophia.  Florence is not even allowed to see James, her other cousin and Sophia’s younger brother.  (He grew very weak and sickly following Sophia’s death.)  Florence feels more alone now than she ever did at the orphanage, but she’s not alone…not at all.

Florence soon realizes Sophia is not entirely gone from Crutchfield Hall.  The ghost of her cousin is haunting Florence, James, and even members of the household staff.  Sophia has the power to make Florence do almost anything she wants…and that includes terrorizing those around her and finding a way to recreate her death so that someone else takes the fall that killed her.

Can Florence–and James–find a way to stop Sophia from wreaking havoc at Crutchfield Hall?  Can they banish her ghost forever?  Will Sophia ever really rest in peace?  Unravel the mystery when you read The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn, a nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is the first book I’ve read by Mary Downing Hahn, but I can almost guarantee it won’t be the last.

Liesl & Po

All sunshine has gone out of the world.  Life is dull and gray for everyone, especially two children, Liesl and Will, who want nothing more than the hope that things will get better…

Liesl spends her days and nights trapped in an attic by her vile stepmother. Her father passed away three days ago, and Liesl feels more alone than ever before. That’s about to change, though. When a ghost named Po–and his ghost pet Bundle–begin to visit Liesl from the Other Side, she doesn’t feel quite so alone. She even begins to hope that her life can change a little and that she can even find some way to reconnect with her father.

Will is an apprentice to an alchemist. He spends his days doing errands, assisting with potions, and never getting anything right. (He’s beginning to think his name is really “Useless.”) The only bright spot in Will’s life is looking at the girl in the attic window and wondering what it would be like if they were to ever meet. As fate would have it, he is about to find out…

When Will mistakenly switches a box full of powerful magic with the box that contains Liesl’s father’s ashes, forces collide that take Liesl, Po, Bundle, and Will on a path that will lead them to each other.  They will fight against evil, cruelty, loss, sadness, and some misunderstandings to get to something better than what they’ve known.  In the process, they will discover friendships that cross the boundary of death.  They may even find a way to make the world a brighter place for everyone.  After all, when magic and hope are involved, anything is possible.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

In The Invention of Hugo Cabret, we are introduced to Hugo, an orphan, timekeeper, thief, and wonderer.  Hugo spends his days and nights in a busy Paris train station, keeping the clocks in working order for his uncle, who has seemingly vanished.  No one notices Hugo, and he does his best to keep it that way so that he doesn’t end up in an orphanage or someplace even worse.  He simply keeps the clocks running, pilfers food where he can, and works on the mechanical man, or automaton, that provides a connection to his father.

In Hugo’s quest to get the automaton working, he steals parts from toys.  As is usually the case, Hugo gets caught in the act by the toymaker.  But the old toymaker doesn’t react to Hugo’s thievery the way one would expect.  In fact, he grows sad when he sees Hugo’s precious notebook, and, after a bit of drama, he even lets Hugo help in the toy shop.  Could the old toymaker be keeping secrets of his own?  Hugo and Isabella, the toymaker’s goddaughter, soon join forces on a quest to find out about the toymaker’s past and his mysterious connection to Hugo’s mechanical man.

Can Hugo and Isabella uncover the mystery of the mechanical man?  What will they discover about Isabella’s godfather?  Join them as they travel through walls, a train station, movie theaters, libraries, and the streets of Paris to unlock the truth.

I haven’t come close to describing how wonderful this book is.  The narrative is as enchanting as the illustrations.  It’s no wonder that The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott Medal.  I just hope the movie is just as awesome as the book.

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

After Homer P. Figg’s older brother, Harold, is illegally sold to the Union Army, Homer does everything he possibly can to find his brother and bring him back home. But what can a boy–whose only talent is telling fibs–do to rescue his brother before he’s sent off to fight in the Civil War?

Well, as it turns out, there’s a lot that Homer can do. He can get involved in the Underground Railroad, he can travel on a steamship to New York, he can become part of a traveling carnival act, he can be arrested for treason, and he can stand up to people twice his age. But can he find his brother before it is too late? Join Homer P. Figg on his amazing–and mostly true–adventures to find out!

I am not normally a fan of historical fiction, but I really enjoyed this book, partly because the character of Homer was so over-the-top and likable. Yes, he was known to tell the occasional tall tale, but he had a good heart, and all he wanted in life was to be with his brother.  This book also offers readers a glimpse of the Civil War that they may not have considered before.  If you pick up this book, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Slob

Slob by Ellen Potter was an easy, quick read that would be perfect for readers from upper elementary through high school.  Adults will enjoy it, too.  I would especially recommend this book to kids who may be seen as outsiders, particularly those students who are often the victims of bullies.  They will really relate to the struggles of the main character.

In Slob, we meet Owen Birnbaum, a twelve-year-old genius who happens to be the fattest kid at his school.  (I can totally relate…except I’m not twelve or a boy.)  Everyday is torture.  Even his gym teacher seems to enjoy tormenting him.  (I can relate to this, too.  I still shudder when I think about my middle school gym teacher.)  As if things weren’t already bad enough, someone keeps stealing his Oreo cookies, and the new kid, believed to be a complete psychopath, seems to be out to get Owen.

But Owen has even more to deal with that simply being bullied at school.  He’s working on an invention that will change the world and, perhaps more importantly, Owen’s life.  If it works, it will allow him to see something that happened two years ago, something that set Owen on his current course.  If Owen can just get the machine, lovingly named Nemesis, to work, he knows things will be better.  Sure, he’ll still be the fat kids who’s always picked on, but he’ll at least have the answers that have been plaguing him for two years.

As Owen grows more and more frustrated with his machine and the torture of being laughed at everyday, he must decide if he’s going to live in the past or deal with the present.  Only one path can make his life different.  Which one will it be?  Read Slob by Ellen Potter to find out!

I hope you enjoy Slob as much as I did, and if you’d like more information about this book and author Ellen Potter, visit http://www.ellenpotter.com/.