Toys R Us, my father, The Black Cauldron, and re-reading--a story from my reading childhood

When we were living overseas (my father was in the Foreign Service), every summer my sisters and I were taken to stay with our grandparents in Arlington, Va.  My mother came for a bit too, but most summers my father stayed at work.  A treat every year was a visit to Toys R Us, but I don't really remember the particulars, except for one special visit.*  My father was there for a bit the summer I was ten, and on a whim he took me (I think just me) there, and said he would buy me a book.  It is the only time I remember him ever buying me a book (he wasn't especially interested in taking us shopping, nor was he especially interested in doing things that didn't interest him), so it was a Special Thing.  I stood in front of all the richness on display in the back right corner of the Bailey's Crossroads Toys R Us, and couldn't choose.  Growing impatient, he plucked one from the shelf, and I acquiesced, not wanting him to be annoyed.  The book was The Black Cauldron, by Lloyd Alexander, and I found the cover unappealing (I still do).  I bet the oddness of it was what attracted my father.

That afternoon, during the time slot when my sisters and I were all told to stay quietly in our rooms to rest (I had an old fashioned childhood), I began to read.  I'm the one in the top bunk.  The Black Cauldron starts with a huge number of characters all gathering together to start an adventure, and I had no clue who any of them were, and I was confused and dubious.  But I kept going, journeying with Taran and co. through the marshes and on to the horror and tragedy of the ending....and my mind was set on fire.  It was unlike anything I'd ever read.

Of course I then hungered for the other books in the series, and they came my way eventually.  But because I wanted them and knew they existed, they weren't as special.  Though The Black Cauldron ended up being only my third favorite (after Taran Wanderer and The High King), the power of that reading experience was unrivaled.  I can still watch the book unfold in my mind's eye, and feel again the emotions each part of it called out of me.  And because the book made such an impact, the memory of my father taking the time to buy it for me (probably he just wanted a reason to get out of the house, but one takes what one gets) is still crystal clear as well.

And that's one of the joys of re-reading- not only do you get the story again, but you get to revisit the self you were when you first read the book.  Because the grown-ups never bought me nearly as many books as I would have liked, I can remember almost all the book gifts of my childhood, and each takes me back to a particular part of my life, with a palimpsest of memories overlaying the actual story.  I'm awfully glad to have all the many books I have now, but when they aren't miracles, coming unexpected and unasked for, with unappealing covers by authors you've never heard of, and which then turn out to be brilliant, it's not quite the same.

So I'm very grateful to Toys R Us for stocking books, and to my father for taking me to buy one, and to my grandmother who insisted on the rest period after lunch, and of course to Lloyd Alexander and all the other authors who all combined to make that a lovely summer.  My grandparents house was sold and demolished, and now the store is gone too, and I feel a little sad about that. 

My first copy of The Black Cauldron must have been read to death, because I now have a modern paperback, but I still have my old copies of the other four. I don't remember the particulars of getting them, because I think I had read library copies, so getting my own copies wasn't as memorable.  It's interesting to see that I got them all at different times, and that there was a period of tremendous book inflation in the late 1970s that clearly shows the order in which I got them.  They are all Dell Yearlings.  The Book of Three was 1.25, The High King was 1.50, Taran Wanderer was 1.75, and then there's a big jump to 3.25 for The Castle of Llyr.

This June, the last summer of being able to plan my older son's life (he goes to college this fall) we are going to Wales, which I have always wanted to visit since reading the books, and so I should probably re-read them all again.....

*This is not actually true.  Thinking it over, I also remember the specific little Beyer horses I got on multiple occasions, in particular Native Dancer, a beautiful grey one (the little horse section was about three rows in from the left hand wall of the store).  We would scrunch up a particular area rug in the living room to make an island with caves for all our little horses, and it was a lovely game....inspired by other books I was reading at the time, all of the Black Stallion series and all of Marguerite Henry....all of which I still have even though goodness knows if I will ever want to re-read all the Black Stallion books ever again.


Two fun new upper elementary fantasies by Vivian French

Two fun new upper elementary fantasies by Vivian French are now available here in the US! UK author Vivian French has written many enjoyable books for kids 8-10, and she really deserves to be better known here in the states.  The Adventures of Alfie Onion and The Cherry Pie Princess (both from Kane Miller) are top notch fantasies that are satisfyingly rich in plot and detail, but not so long as to intimidate elementary school readers who aren't ready for Harry Potter.

The Adventures of Alfie Onion

Alfie Onion's mum wanted a fairy tale ever after, but since there was no handy prince to marry, she settled for a seventh son, thinking her own seventh son was sure to be a hero and win wealth enough to keep her in style!  So she pinned all her hopes on her seventh son, Magnifico, and son number eight, little Alfie, got short shrift.  And when Magnifico, spoiled and lumpish, turns 14, his mother sends him off to find his fortune.  Alfie gets sent along too, to carry the luggage.

Magnifico is ill-equipped, both by temperament and physique, to be a hero.  It's a good thing that Alife is along to save the day and defeat the ogres outside the castle holding the enchanted princess!  And it's a good thing for Alfie that he has the help of a bevy of talking animals--a horse, two mice and two magpies, and the help as well from the trolls the ogres have been oppressing, and even from the ogre daughter, who is sick of the abuse her dad and brother have been inflicting on her.

The reader knows right away that Alfie's the hero, and it's a treat to follow along on his adventures, cheering for him and wondering just how pathetic Magnifico is going to be next.

The Cherry Pie Princess

Peony is the youngest of seven princesses, and unlike her sisters, she doesn't find being a princess particularly satisfying.  She wants to do things, like bake (cherry pies are her specialty) and check out books from the town's library, that are forbidden.  When she borrows a cookbook from the library, the king has the librarian arrested for "speaking out of turn."  And when she speaks up to her father about this, she herself lands in the castle prison, a place she never knew existed.

In the meantime, her baby brother's christening is approaching; three good fairies have been invited, and one bad one has not.  With the help of her fellow prisoners, Peony escapes, just in time to foil the bad fairy's enchantments with the help of a talking cat, and her father has a change of heart about her activities...only partly  because she bakes such delicious cherry pies!

It's a pleasant book, good for kids who enjoy baking in particular.  The king is perhaps a bit too much of a jerk for his change of heart to be believable, but Peony is a great heroine with enough integrity and strength of will to make up for her father!

It's a testament to Vivian French's way with words that I enjoyed reading these myself, in a quick, lighthearted way, and the target audience should be even more pleased.  There's nothing too scary for an even younger reader than 8....I would happily give them to my 7 year old ex-self!

disclaimer: review copies received from the publisher


The Art of the Swap, by Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Art of the Swap, by Kristine Asselin and Jen Malone (Aladdin, Feb 2018), is equal parts time travel story, art heist and concomitant mystery to be solved, a visit to Gilded Age Newport, with a touch of a feminist message. It was a fun read.

Hannah's the daughter of the caretaker of one of Newport's many mansions (the Elms, which is a nice one!).  Having grown up amongst the antiques and opulence, she has a somewhat proprietary interest in the bygone inhabitants of the mansion, particularly Maggie Dunlap.  Maggie was another 12 year old who lived briefly at the Elms, and her portrait has made her real to Hannah.  But the painting is just a reproduction of the original painted by Mary Cassatt, which was stolen the day it was to be unveiled in 1905.

And then one day the portrait becomes a portal through which the two girls swap places in time.  Hannah, back in the past just a few days before the heist will occur, is determined to stop it, and Maggie is willing to give her a bit of time to do so.  But Maggie is tremendously ill-equipped to cope with the sweaty life of a modern girl (will Hannah ever be allowed to play on her soccer team again?) and Hannah is tremendously ill-suited to the role of proper young lady.

Using the portrait portal to communicate, the girls work together to save the painting...but first Hannah must figure out who did it, set up a plan to keep it safe for the future, and keep the young servant boy accused of the crime out of danger.  The clock is ticking--in our time, Hannah's father has planned a trip that will keep the girls from swapping back for weeks...and neither is doing a good job leading the other's life!

And this is the part that made it a bit hard for me to truly enjoy the book.  Neither puts particular effort into adopting the idioms and manners of their new time, though Maggie gets more points for this than Hannah.  This surprised me, because Hannah is supposed to be gung ho about the past of her home; she should have been a better impersonator! But she never gets any better.

But I did very much enjoy the experience each girl had of seeing their familiar home changed- this was really magical.  Plus the relationship between the two girls is solid though fleeting, and the lessons that they learn in each other's times (social history for Hannah and feminism for Maggie) are both valuable and believable, and the opulence of the Elms, both past and present, is very nicely made real.  And I think young readers are more likely than me to find the problems each experienced in the other's time funny!

So give this to a young reader who likes to daydream about fancy balls of the past while getting ready for soccer practice!

And if you come to Kidlitcon 2019 (next March in Providence RI) I can help you get down to Newport if you want to see the Elms for yourself!


The Serpent's Secret, by Sayantani Dasgupta

The Serpent's Secret, by Sayantani Dasgupta (Scholastic, Feb. 2018), is a wild ride through a fantasy world full of demons, snakes, moon magic, flying horses, and a baby star nursery presided over by Albert Einstein (yep!).  It's starts in fine swinging style.  It's Kiranmala's 12th birthday, and Halloween in Parsippany, New Jersey is about to get underway....and everything seems ordinary. But Kiran's parents have vanished when she gets home from school, leaving a cryptic note, and a demon invades her home, trashing the place and trying to eat her alive.  The timely arrival of two crush worthy boys on winged horses helps her escape the demon, and take her off with them...and that's just the beginning of her problems.

Turns out, all times Kiran's parents told her she was an Indian princess, and all the fantastical stories they told, had a lot of truth in them.  Whisked away to another dimension, full of magic and wonders (and demons) by the two princes, Kiran is determined to keep her focus on finding her demon-kidnapped parents.  And when the nicer of the two princes gets trapped in a spell, he has to be saved as well.

So Kiran is left with Neel (the grouchier prince, who has a complicated family backstory of his own) to go with her on a journey to the impossible place her parents are trapped, guided by riddles and a map of lands that randomly move from place to place.   Dangers and unexpected helpers await, and to her surprise, Kiran finds herself become friends with Neel....

Kiran is a great character who wants to be competent and not need rescuing, and she's well on her way to being that person, but she is (totally understandably, being only just turned 12) a bit out of her depth in this magical dimension in which she has found herself.  The bravest thing she does, in all sincerity, is to keep her head when confronted with the impossible.  The hardest thing she has to do, also in all sincerity, is not to scream in frustration at Neel, who is really not an open, helpful explainer of what the heck has happened (I'm sore at Neel, for blaming Kiran for something that isn't her fault, and I would have screamed at him like crazy if I'd been there....).

The adventures are exciting, without being overplayed, and the strange-nesses, likewise, are not so over emphasized and overwrought that they become tedious.  There are funny elements (funnier if you think demon snot is amusing, which I don't...), disturbing elements involving way too many snakes, and bits that make you think about quantum physics.  Plus winged horses whose voices Kiran can hear, that will delight young magical animal fans.  So something for everyone!

The Author's Note at the end explains how the story is based on the traditional folktales of West Bengal, India, that the author learned from her own family.  Reading this made me mentally add a certain gravitas to my impression of the book, as it is not just a fun story but an own-voices one that is new to the table of American middle grade fantasy.  I look forward to Kiran's next adventure!

Here's the Kirkus review, which hits many of the same notes....


This week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (3/18/18)

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? by Kelly Jones, at The Reading Nook Reviews

The Book of Bad Things, by Dan Poblocki, at Dark Fairie Tales

Buttheads from Outer Space, by Jerry Mahoney, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo, by Stephen Bramucci, at Semicolon

Embers of Destruction (Mysteries of Cove, Book 3) by J. Scott Savage, at Hidden in Pages

Frogkisser, by Garth Nix, at You Book Me All Night Long

The Ghost of Thomas Kemp, by Penelope Lively, at The Emerald City Book Review

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill, at The Secret Files of Fairday Morrow and as an audiobook at Hidden In Pages

Harriet the Invincible, by Ursula Vernon, at Geo Librarian

Krikkit's Shoes, by Jessie L. Best, at Red Headed Booklover Blog

The Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic, by Eliot Schrefer, at Mom Read It

The Marvelwood Magicians, by Diane Zahler, at alibrarymama

The Misadventure of Bolingbroke Manor by Ellie Firestone, at LILbooKLovers

The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende, at Leaf's Reviews

The Nothing to See Here Hotel, by Steven Butler, at Alittlebutalot

Ranger in Time: D-Day: Battle on the Beach by Kate Messner, at The Children's War

Space Runners: The Moon Platoon, by Jeramey Kraatz, at Charlotte's Library

The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner, at Pages Unbound

Switched, by Jen Calonita, at Cracking the Cover

The Thrifty Guide to the American Revolution by Jonathan Stokes, at Redeemed Reader

The Train of Lost Things, by Ammi-Joan Paquette, at Nerdy Book Club

Watchdog, by Will McIntosh, at alibrarymama

Wizard for Hire, by Obert Skye, at The Readathon

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads:  A Bad Night for Bullies, by Gary Ghislain, and Skeleton Tree, by Kim Ventrella

Two at Boys Rule Boys Read:  Guardians of the Grypon's Claw, by Todd Calgi Gallicano, and The Winged Girl of Knossos, by Erick Berry

Authors and Interviews

Liz Kessler (Emily Windsnap) at B and N Kids Blog

Stephanie Burgis (The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart) at The Cybils

Zetta Elliott (Dragons in a Bag) at Elizabeth Dulemba

Other Good Stuff

Have you been checking out the facebook posts of KidlitWomen?  Lots interesting and motivating reading.

Rhianna Pratchett talks about her Moomin infused childhood at The Guardian

And do you  know that the next KidLitCon will be in Providence RI in March of 2019?  Check out the fantastic list of folks who are already planning to come!


Monsters Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado

Monsters Beware! is the third book of the Chronicles of Claudette, written by Jorge Aguirre and illustrated by Rafael Rosado, with John Novak. This is a great graphic novel series for elementary and middle grade kids that will delight all young adventurers, and this third installment keeps the fun and excitement going very nicely indeed.

Claudette's home town is playing host to the Warrior Games, in which three children from each participating kingdom compete to slay monsters.  Claudette, being Claudette, wants desperately for the chance to slay, and manipulates the other kids so that's she's chosen, along with her little brother, Gaston, and best friend, Marie. But Marie's father, the lord of the town, doesn't want anything bad to happen to her, so instead of monsters, the competitions feature domestic and agrarian tasks!  When the trio of kids start to win competition after competition, with other kids mysteriously disappearing during each event, Claudette throws off her disappointment viz lack of monsters to through herself fiercely into the fray of truffle hunting, plowing, etc.

But there actually are monsters--the Sea Kingdom kids are not what they seem to be, and they want more than just victory in the Games.  When their monstrous true nature is finally revealed for all to see (though the reader, Maria and Gaston realized this much earlier in the story), Claudette finally gets to attack.  But though her sword work is fierce, it's Gaston's magical cooking skills and Marie's ability to stall through polite small talk that really save the day!

And the ending is happier than readers could have guessed.

It is tremendously fun, and funny, and this third volume only reaffirms my opinion that the series is one that belongs on the shelves of every young fantasy fan.  The pictures are bright and vibrant and easy to understand, helping moving the story along in beautiful synchronicity with the words (I'm not the best graphic novel reader because I tend to focus on words, and so I appreciate books like this where I can absorb the picture information at the same time).

Here are my reviews of the first book--Giants Beware!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


Space Runners: The Moon Platoon, by Jeramey Kraatz

Though I do my darndest to read All the Books (specifically, all the middle grade science and fantasy books), sometimes I miss them when they come out, and then the sequel appears and I must play catch-up.  That's the case with Space Runners: The Moon Platoon, by Jeramey Kraatz, that came out in May 2017 (HarperCollins) whose sequel, Dark Side of the Moon, came out last month...and since I enjoyed Kraatz's earlier Cloak Society series, and since there's so little exoplanetary mg sci fi that each new series is exciting, I pushed Moon Platoon up on my reading list....and had a nice afternoon of excitement on the moon as my reward!

Benny Love has spent his twelve years in the drylands that cover most of western North America fifty years or so in the future, years he's spent help his dad find food and water for their caravan, helping look after his little brothers, and always dreaming of a way out.  Now the way out has come--Benny has been chosen to go to the moon.  Elijah West, genius inventor and eccentric, has chosen him to be one of 100 scholarship kids who will go spend two weeks at the Lunar Taj, his  luxury resort playground on the moon.  Benny and the other kids, who come from all around the globe, are thrilled at the chance to pilot Space Runners, tinker with cool technology, and compete to earn West's favor (and maybe get to stay on the moon and work for him).

But almost immediately there are signs (not very subtle ones; mechanical exploding asteroids are not subtle) that something is very wrong on the moon.  Benny and the kids in his new cohort soon find themselves breaking rule after rule to find out what's really happening. And then, once they do, it's up to them to do something about it, because there's no-one on earth who can save the day.

If you are a reader who thinks drag-racing in space sounds awesome, you are the perfect reader for this book.  If you are a reader who enjoys cool technology and a mystery plot, with kids saving the day in the end, you are an excellent reader for it.  If you enjoy sci fi mysteries with a lot of page time spent on kids in a boarding school-like situation, where friendship formation is as important as the technology to both saving the world and moving the plot along, you are a very good reader for it.  This would be me.


Though I enjoyed it as light entertainment, and very much wanted to see what was going to happen, it wasn't as emotionally powerful as I like my fraught adventures to be.  Benny is just too darn good to be true.  In fairness, his nobility is what got him the scholarship, but still.  He is an angel teen, very likeable and sympathetic, but a bit much, and so the reader is being more told to feel certain emotions in response to him rather than be overcome from behind by them (as it were).  The supporting kids were less angelic, but not desperately nuanced either. So if you demand fully-three dimensional characters who are more than their primary attribute (coder girl, jock girl, bratty rich boy sort of thing), you won't love this one.  The author adds some character depth with backstory, but backstory can only take you so far.  

So it is best to simply power up your space runner and go along for the ride....and since I still want to know what happens next (and since the second book has gotten more favorable reviews ) the best part of having taken a while to get to this one is that I can add the sequel to my library holds list right away!


this week's round-up of middle grade fantasy and sci fi from around the blogs (3/11/18)

Welcome to this week's sprung forward edition of what I found in my weekly blog reading of interest to us middle grade sci fi/fantasy fans!

The Reviews

Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi, at Hopeful Reads

Beast and Crown, by Joel Ross, at alibrarymama

Dominion, by Shane Arbuthnott, at alibrarymama

Dragon's Future by Kandi Wyatt, at Cover2CoverBlog (audiobook review)

Emily Windsnap and the Falls of Forgotten Island, by Liz Kessler, at Read Till Dawn

Frederik Sandwich and the Earthquake that Couldn't Possibly Be, by Kevin John Scott, at The Write Path

Granted, by John David Anderson, at Maria's Melange and  Log Cabin Library

The Ice Sea Pirates, by Frida Nilsson, at Semicolon

Intergalactic P.S. 3, by Madeleine L'Engle, at Charlotte's Library

The List, by Patricia Forde, at Semicolon

The Lost Frost Girl, by Amy Wilson, at This Kid Reviews Books

Love Sugar Magic-a Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano, at Mom Read It

Nightfall, by Shannon Messenger, at Pages Unbound Reviews

The Oceans Between Stars, by Kevin Emerson, at Charlotte's Library

The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd, at Puss Reboots

Rebel Genius, by Michael DiMartino, at alibrarymama

The Serpent's Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta, at Rajiv's Reviews

Sisters of Glass, by Naomi Cyprus, at This Kid Reviews Books

The Spinner Prince (Pride Wars), by Matt Laney, at Books for Kids

Terra Nova, by Shane Arbuthnott, at Sci Fi and Scary

The Twistrose Key, by Tone Almhjell, at Hidden in Pages

The Zanna Functin, by Daniel Wheatley, at A Dance With Books

Three at Ms. Yingling Reads--The World Below, by Wesley King, The Serpent's Secret, by Sayantani DasGupta, and Leia, Princess of Alderan, by Claudia Gray

Authors and Interviews

Vashti Hardy (Brightstorm), at Minerva Reads

Diane Magras (The Mad Wolf's Daughter) at B. and N. Kids Blog

Amy Wilson (A Far Away Magic) at Stephanie Burgis

Other Good Stuff

This year's winner of the Blue Peter Award, given by the UK's Book Trust, is The Wizards of Once, by Cressida Cowell

Lots of Wrinkle in Time stuff out there; here's one I liked at Tor--How Could I Forget the Liberating Weirdness of Madeleine L’Engle? and here's a list of books for Wrinkle in Time fans to read next that I made for B and N Kids Blog

And though not quite seasonally appropriate here in the north-east, the homemade ice-cream books at Playing by the Book are utterly charming!

and finally, Kidlitcon 2019 will be next March, in Providence RI, hosted by me and Mia Wenjen of Pragmatic Mom! I hope you can come talk children's books and make new friends with us!


Intergalactic P.S. 3, by Madeleine L'Engle

When I heard there was a new book published in the Wrinkle In Time series, I was thrilled.  But then I discovered that Intergalactic P.S. 3 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Feb. 2018, 112 pages) was just the starter point for what would become the second book in the series, A Wind in the Door.  L'Engle published it for Children's Book Week in 1970, and it's more a long short story than a full book.  L'Engle tells, in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, that she struggled with the plot of A Wind in the Door, with the characters coming clear to her mind but the story being more troublesome.  Intergalactic P.S. 3 was an early stab at the story, and so it doesn't fill in an actual gap in the series, but simply is an alternate version of what "really" happened.

Charles Wallace is about to start school, and he and his family are convinced it is going to be a disaster, because the stereotypical small town mentality where they live is going to make it impossible for a little genius like C.W. to survive without getting beaten up.  The conversation is a lot more direct than it is in a Wind in the Door, and I couldn't help but feel that his parents were setting C.W. up for failure without actually doing anything useful, like trying to talk to his teachers, or possibly moving so he could have a fresh start without negative preconceptions shadowing him.  Meg is determined to save her brother from the hell of public school kindergarten, and so with the power of will and wishing she summons the three Mrs. W, who whisk C.W., Meg, and Calvin off to school on another planet.  

There they are each paired with an alien child, and although Calvin's dolphin-headed partner didn't make it into the final version (no great loss), Progo the cherubim and Sporos, not yet a mitochondrian, are paired with the others, and Meg has to undergo her "which is the real Mr. Jenkins" test.

When I read a Wind in the Door at the age of nine, the Mr. Jenkins test blew my mind.  The story of Calvin's shoes, especially the pathos of Mr. Jenkins trying to make the new ones look a bit used, so as to spare Calvin's feelings, had a huge impact on me (and maybe even made me a better person....at any rate I spent considerable waiting to fall asleep time trying to love the principal of my own school, with little success but perhaps it was good for me).  So reading a much-less developed version of the story did nothing for me.

Basically this book isn't a thrilling expansion of the known universe of A Wrinkle In Time, but simply a look at how the final story of A Wind in the Door developed.  Not without interest to fans, but not exactly a treat.  If, on the other hand, there are young kids today who want to read "the next book" but are not ready to independently read A Wind in the Door, this would be just fine--it's a lot shorter and easier to read, and has friendly illustrations by Hope Larson (who did the graphic novel version of Wrinkle).

What I'm really left with is the desire to re-read Wind in the Door, and a horrible feeling that I don't know where I shelved it...and the old feeling of "those eyes are really scary."
(this isn't my copy, but mine is the same edition in about the same state...I re-read it a lot.)

Kidlitcon 2019-Providence!

Kidlitcon is coming to Providence RI March 22 and 23 2019!  We'll be the Hotel Providence, right in beautiful, quirky downtown, and we hope you can join us!  Here's our website, with all the information to date.

Kidlitcon is an annual (more or less) gathering of children's and YA book folk (authors, illustrators, reviewers, librarians, gatekeepers, parents, publishers and more), and we can promise two days full of great discussions and great friendships, with two keynote speakers and concurrent panels on a wide variety of book topics!  There will also be food and drink and swag.  The Kidlitcon organizers for 2019 are Mia Wenjen and me, and we are determined to make this the best Kidlitcon ever (which is a high bar).

Since we're still a bit more than a year out, registration isn't open yet, but you can start planning to come now!  We welcome ideas for panels and expressions of interest (there's a poll at the website, to give us a sense of what people are most interested in talking about), and we've also started looking for sponsorships so that we can keep registration costs down and still break even.

Here are some sponsorship opportunities:

As soon as we have ticketing set up, you can select Sponsorship from the list of options. Any amount over $50 will get you a side bar listing on our website, a post on our facebook page, inclusion in the program and on signage at the conference, recognition from the podium, and will be part of a coordinated social media blast to the c. 300,000 folks reached by our team!

 The following special options are also available.

 Food and beverage sponsorships:  

 These sponsorships will give you the listing and outreach above, plus an easel in the food and beverage room displaying an advertisement/promotional image of your choice (that fits on a standard conference easel) on display both days of the conference.
·            Breakfast $250 (two available)

·           Morning coffee and tea. ​$200 (two available)

·           Afternoon snack: $250 (two available)      

·           Lunch: $500 (two available)

·           Friday Evening reception sponsorship $150 (four available)       

·                Snack: $300 (two available)
Audio Visual sponsorship

Sponsor the AV needs of one of our meeting rooms!  As well as the listing and outreach above, you can send us an image to use as the screen saver/default page of one of the projectors, and each session in that room will begin with a thank you image and acknowledgement from the podium.

AV sponsorship: $225 (three available)


Your ad placed in the program given out to attendees. Attendees actually look at and keep our program.

Quarter Page                       $50
Half Page                            $100
Full Page                             $200

Easel Display

Your promotional image/advertisement displayed on an easel in the registration/food and beverage area! Kidlitcon attendees love to look at book pictures and book news, so this is a great way for publishers to showcase forthcoming titles, or if you're an author, it's a great way to spotlight your newest book (you can share your spot with other authors too, to save money!).  Limited to 6, we can print your image for you at cost or you can mail it to us.

One day  $50
Both days $75

If you are interested in coming, presenting, sponsoring, or all of the above, please shoot me an email-charlotteslibrary@gmail.com. Thanks!

And keep an eye on the website for more information as we get closer to the date!


The Oceans Between Stars, by Kevin Emerson, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Oceans Between Stars, by Kevin Emerson (Walden, middle grade, Feb 2017), is the sequel to Last Day on Mars, an action-packed story of the sun going supernova as two kids, Liam and Phoebe, find themselves scrambling against sabotage and disaster to get themselves and their parents off Mars before it is toast.  This is what happens to them out in space, as they try to rendezvous with the rest of humanity, hoping their little space yacht and the robot piloting it will get them to safety.  Both sets of parents are badly injured, and must stay in stasis, so there's no help from them.  Space is cold and vast and lonely when you aren't sure if you'll ever have a home, and there's the looming fear that whoever the aliens are who are setting suns on supernova fire are going to keep up their nasty work, and no where will be safe.

There's enough plot in just that part of the story for a whole book.  But wait, there's more.

This is not a spoiler because it's how the book starts.

It turns out that the planet chosen for humanity's new home already had sentient beings on it, and all but a few were killed when humanity sent a cleansing inferno down to wipe all life from its surface so that humanity could have a clean slate.  They might not have known for sure what they were doing, but quite possibly suspected....and the 238 survivors want their planet back, and have no pity to spare for humanity's need for a new home.

That's a lot of plot too.  But there's still more.

Phoebe has been keeping a secret.  A terrible one.  She's been secretly leaving stasis to alter the course of their little spacecraft so that it won't reach the rendezvous point when it's supposed to.  Is she still Liam's friend? Her parents' daughter?  Readers of the first book know that she is one of the survivors of the blasted planet, but Liam doesn't, and when he finds out there is great emotional tension and powerful considerations of friendship and loyalty.

And on top of that, you also get time slipping with alien technology! 

[apologies for the next paragraph.  I didn't really understand what was happening with regard to the time travel, and had a choice--I could slow down, and carefully try to make sense of things, or simply keep turning the pages to see what happened next.  I chose the later.  I always choose the later.]

Back on Mars, Liam found an alien corpse, and took from it a device that messes with time, showing him the future or the past, and himself and others doing things in both that have a huge impact on the choices he makes.  He doesn't actually travel through time in a standard boy going to another time way; it's more like time is traveling weirdly around him, or he's traveling within time, or something.  When he encounters the alien whose device it was in a past pocket of time, they try to explain...and neither Liam or I really understood.  But both of us continued on with the story, trusting that events would unravel into some sort of temporal coherence.  Which they did, to a point, although that point involved an increase in the travelling part of the time slipping....and no answers to anything......

So we must wait for the third book....which will involve reading books 1 and 2 again just before it comes out, so that everything makes more sense in my mind.  Good thing the books are worth it!

Kirkus nails it on this one-- "Thrills, violence, time/space questions, and some contemplation about colonization make for action on the thoughtful side"  (To which I will add that this is the sort of book that makes me realize again how much easier it is for me to enjoy middle grade books, with kids as the central protagonists, than it is for me to enjoy YA books these days...there's a clarity of focus to middle grade (or something) that just holds my interest more).


This week's round up of middle grade fantasy and sci from from around the blogs (3/4/18)

Here's what I found this week; please let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Aru Shah and the End of Time, by Roshani Chokshi, at Abby the Librarian

Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy, at Minerva Reads and  Playing by the Book

Children of Exile, by Margaret Peterson Haddix, at Geo Librarian

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic) by Anna Meriano, at Puss Reboots

Elementals: Ice Wolves (Book 1) by Amie Kaufman, at Readings

Flower Moon, by Gina Linko, at She's Going Book Crazy

Ghosts of Greenglass House, by Kate Milford, at Locus

Handbook for Dragon Slayers, and The Castle Behind Thorns, by Merrie Haskell, at Small Review

Harper and the Night Forest by Cerrie Burnell, at Say What?

Ninth Ward, by Jewell Parker Rhodes, at Book Nut

Oddity, by Sarah Cannon, at Always in the Middle

The Problim Children, by Natalie Lloyd, at Children's Books Heal

The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin, at Middle Grade Mafioso

The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani DasGupta, at SLJ

Shadow Magic, by Joshua Kahn, at Susan Uhlig

Skeleton Tree, by Kim Ventrella, at Semicolon

Tin, by Padraig Kenny, at The Great British Bookworm

The Unicorn Quest, by Kamilla Benko, at Kidsreads

When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, at Leaf's Reviews

Wizardmatch, by Lauren Magaziner, at Pages Unbound Reviews

Two at Time Travel Times Two: The Painting, by Charis Cotter, and Within a Painted Past, by Hazel Hutchins

Two set in Poland, at Semicolon:  The  Wolf Hour, by Sara Lewis Holmes, and The Dollmaker of Krakow, by R.M. Romero

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads:  The Wishmakers, by Tyler Whitesides, and The Boggart Fights Back, by Susan Cooper

Another two at Ms. Yingling Reads:  The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray, by E. Latimer, and Legends of the Lost Causes, by Brad McLelland, Brad and Louis Sylvester

Authors and Interviews

Sayantani DasGupta (The Serpent's Secret) at B and N Kids Blog

Linday Currie (The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street) at Melissa Roske

Other Good Stuff

An enticing list of new books coming out in the US in March at From the Mixed Up Files, and new books in the UK, at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books


Cucumber Quest: the Ripple Kingdom, by Gigi D.G.

I have a soft spot for the graphic novel series Cucumber Quest because my little one (now not so little) was very fond of it when it was still a webcomic....Now it is a book series from FirstSecond, and the second book, The Ripple Kingdom, has just been released (the first book, The Doughnut Kingdom, came out last fall).  Those wise grownups who realize that reading kid-friendly graphic novels is a great way to get kids reading, especially when it's a series that's fun and bright and both a bit silly and quite a bit exciting, should be happy to have it to offer any young readers (7-10 year olds) who they might have kicking around the place.

Cucumber is a young rabbit boy whose plans to study magic got derailed by a quest to save the world.  His little sister, Almond, goes with him, and she's thrilled to have her fighting skills put to the test on their quest to find the fabled Dream Sword and defeat the Nightmare Knight.  Cucumber is much less thrilled, and his thrill level goes down even more when misfortune at sea strands him on a lonely beach.  Almond and their companion, the rather hapless Sir Carrot, are no where to be seen.   But on the beach, Princess Nautilus is being menaced by a gang of crab bullies, and Cucumber is able, to his own astonishment, to use his magic to save her.  The two join forces to rescue Almond, Carrot, and Queen Conch from the giant tentacled Splashmaster, and manage, improbably, to succeed.

It's lots of fun, with colorful illustrations that have touches of silliness, and little bits of random story (like a pop-in visit from the superhero Captain Caboodle, Champion of Justice).  And though the perspective hops around from Cucumber to Almond, the adventure is easy to follow, and quite gripping!  A more serious thread runs through it too--can the Nightmare Knight, who makes an appearance at the end of the book, ever really be defeated when there are always evil, power-hungry folk who will call him back to life????

Cucumber and Almond, and the hapless Carrot, must do their best, and so it's onward to their next adventure in the Melody Kingdom, coming this May!

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantsy from around the blogs (2/25/18)

Here's what I found in my blog reading this week; let me know if I missed your post!

The Reviews

Arthur Quinn and the Fenris Wolf (The Father of Lies #2), by Alan Early, at Say What?

The Book of Dragons, by E. Nesbit, at Fantasy Liturature

Brave Red, Smart Frog, by Emily Jenkins, at alibrarymama

Clod Makes a Friend by David J. Pedersen, at Sharon the Librarian

Dormia, by Jake Halpern and Peter Kujawinski, at Hidden in Pages

Dragon's Green, by Scarlett Thomas, at Pages Unbound

Granted, by John David Anderson, at Charlotte's Library

How to Sell Your Family to Aliens, by Paul North, at Jen Robinson's Book Page

Legends of the Lost Causes, by Brad McLelland and Louis Sylvester, at Cuddle and Chaos

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, at Puss Reboots

The Painting, by Charis Cotter, at alibrarymama

The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani, at What Shall We Read Next?

The Serpent’s Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1), by Sayantani Dasgupta, at Mom Read It

Sisters of Glass, by Naomi Cyprus, at The Book Smugglers

The Zanna Function, by Daniel Wheatley, at Sci Fi and Scary

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--11:11 Wish, by Kim Tomsic, and The Beginning Woods, by Malcolm McNeill 

Three more from Ms. Yingling Reads-- The Oceans Between Stars, by Kevin Emerson, Dark Side of the Moon, by Jeremey Kraatz, and Off Armegedon Reef, by David Weber

Authors and Interviews

Anna Meriano (Love Sugar Magic) at Writers' Rumpus

Sean Easley (The Hotel Between) at MG Book Village

Other Good Stuff

"Nothing About Us Without Us: Writing #OwnVoices Fantasy in The Age of Black Panther" at MG Book Village

LeVar Burton reads a Joan Aiken story!

Warriors Read alikes at Jean Little Library


Granted, by John David Anderson

John David Anderson's latest middle grade book, continues a pattern--a pattern of not writing the same book twice; he's written sword and sorcery fantasy, superhero stories (with twists) realistic middle grade,  and realistic middle grade mixed with fantasy.  Granted isn't like any of those other books, though it is fantasy.  It is a book about fairies making wishes come true (the little magical type fairies with wings), and the problems (more like near disasters) that one fairy, Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets, encounters when she sets off into the human world to grant what seemed like a simple wish.

Sadly, it didn't work for me personally, although this is absolutely a matter of taste (Kirkus gave it a starred review), and I am absolutely certain that other grown-up readers of middle grade fantasy will love it, and that lots, though not all, kids will too.

The book begins by setting up the world of the fairies--they live separate from the human world, busily training themselves to go forth and grant wishes, or go into other fields such as making and healing and technology....It didn't break any particularly new ground for fairy enclaves, but it was fine.  And the problem facing the fairies--that there were fewer wishes every day for them to go forth and grant, and a worrying, interconnected decline in magic in general, was interesting.

The heroine fairy, Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets, did not appeal to me--she's a bossy pants perfectionist type, and although the edges of her sometimes abrasive personality soften during the course of the adventure to come, she's still not my favorite strong fictional girl character.

But the main reason the book wasn't one for me is that I do not like too much to go wrong.  When Ophelia is of on her mission to grant a wish, which should have been straightforward, and she should have had not trouble, it becomes a series of disasters one after another.  Too many times she got close to doing what she had to do, only for yet another thing to go wrong.  Not my personal cup of tea.

And finally,  I am not a dog person, and a large licky smelly dog plays an important roll in the story. Admitedly, the relationship between the fairy and the dog is the most powerful part of the story, so I was glad the dog was there, but still.

On the other hand, the ending is heartwarming, the story is memorable and even thought provoking, and Anderson's writing can be counted on to make clear pictures in the mind.  So basically, if it sounds at all interesting to you, and you love dogs--go for it.


The Girl with the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke, for Timeslip Tuesday

The Girl with the Red Balloon, by Katherine Locke (Albert Whitman 2017), is top notch YA time travel goodness! It's the story of a modern American girl, Ellie Baum, granddaughter of a Jewish Holocaust survivor, is visiting Berlin on a school trip.  When a red balloon drifts by, she grabs it....and finds herself in 1988, still in Berlin, but such a different place (there's still a year to go before the wall comes down). The red balloon was not supposed to have found Ellie.  It was supposed to magically carry an East Berliner in particular danger to the west.  But instead of a successful mission accomplished, the runners for the magical balloon operation that night now have Ellie on their hands.

Kai and Mitzi, the runners, don't know what to make of Ellie, but shelter her in their hideaway house.  Her bad German and lack of identity papers and working knowledge of "how not to get arrested by the Stazi" make her a danger to herself and to them, and they are not safe even at the best of times (as well as actively working against the state, Kai is Romani, and dark-skinned, and Mitzi is gay).  The balloon makers, part of a world-wide organization of magical rescuers who bespell each balloon for its intended passenger, don't know what to make of her either.  All are in agreement that Ellie needs to go home.  But how? And why did this happen to her?

 Kai and Ellie don't wait passively for the Balloon Makers to provide answers, but instead start investigate the problem for themselves.  Appallingly, the dead bodies of other time travelers start appearing on the streets of East Berlin--clearly there is some larger wrongness happening than just Ellie's trip from the future.  Why, though, did she live and the others not?

The answer lies further in the past.  Chapters of Ellie's story are interspersed throughout with that of her grandfather, who escaped as a teenager from Chelmno, a concentration camp in Poland, in 1942, with the help of his own red balloon.  (this isn't a spoiler; we know about his balloon almost immediately because he's told Ellie about it many times).

And so the mystery unravels, or more accurately tightens and becomes more dangerous, and as Ellie and Kai spend more time together, attraction, impossible, forbidden, and powerful, builds between them.

So not a comfort read, but a gripping one that I highly recommend.  Ellie couldn't Do much to solve her problems in her position as illegal foreigner in East Berlin, but that didn't make her a passive heroine needing rescue.  She was able, for instance, to stay sane which is saying a lot in her cirumstances!  And she was also able to learn to make little flying paper birds, which weren't much use, but which were intriguing and charming....Basically, she provided a very good perspective to share while visiting 1988 East Berlin, and that's one of the things that makes a time travel story work for me.

Although the particular plot threads are for the most part resolved, there's plenty of room for more, and indeed it is the first of a planned series.  So I recommend it lots (the only down side is that you might have the song 99 Luftballons going through your head over and over and over for the next week....)   Kirkus agrees with me (good job, Kirkus!)-- "An absorbing blend of historical fiction, mystery, and magical realism."


The Tombs, by Deborah Schaumberg

The Tombs, by Deborah Schaumberg (Harper Teen, Feb 20 2018), is a tense and atmospheric story set in an alternate 19th-century New York, where zepplins are common-place, but conditions for workers in the factories are much as they were in real life (which is to say, bad).  Avery is one of those workers; she's a welder, a skill picked up from her mechanical genius father, and despite the fact that she's a girl, her skill has gotten her a job (with miserable hours and working conditions, but still desperately needed).  Her father came back from the Civil War pretty broken, and though he found love, set up a shop selling clocks and mechanicals, and things went while for a bit, he was broken once more when his wife was taken from him.  The crow-masked goons working for the insane asylum in the basement of the Tombs, the city's notorious prison, came for her a few years before the story begins, and Avery hasn't seen her since.

But now the Crows seem to have set their sights on Avery, just as she is beginning to manifest the same psychic gifts that drew their attention to her mother.  Questioning her own sanity, she finds reassurance from the Gypsy community living outside the city.  (NB:  yes, Gypsy is the word used.  The author explains this by saying that this is the word 19th-century New Yorkers would have used.  But since they call themselves Romany, it doesn't seem like it would have taken much effort to have them explain to Avery that Gypsy is offensive, so that she and the author could have quit using it).  With the help of the Romany, Avery begins to understand her gifts, and begins to think that she can rescue her mother from the Tombs.

But the task in front of her gets more monumental when she finds out what the whole sinister purpose of the "mental asylum" actually is.  Horrible experiments are being carried out there, that could jeopardize the hopes of the working classes for a better life.... And when Avery herself is captured, and turned into a lab rat herself, her hope that she can be a rescuer dims even more.

Fortunately, even in dark prisons, there are friends...

So if you enjoy dark urban YA with a generous dollup of romance (two very worthy and helpful young men are present as love interests), a sprinkle of steampunk (incidental mechanicals as well as zeppelins), in which there's lots of atmospheric buildup before thing really get going in the last 200 pages, and if you appreciate a book where the female protagonist is a brilliant welder, has a hawk, and can do cool things with auras and life forces, and most importantly, if you can over look the grating, incessant use of an offensive descriptor, you will enjoy this.  I personally found it very readable, though not exactly my preferred cup of tea (dark and urban isn't my preferred thing), and though it was slow at times, a tad too New Age during the exploration of psychic gifts when Avery is first with the Romeny, and I was grated to the limits of my endurance by the use of "gypsy".  Seriosuly, it wouldn't have been hard to just switch to Romany, or better still, Romani.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


11 years of blogging--looking back with 11 posts

So I have a post due for the Barnes and Noble Kids blog on books for fans of a Wrinkle in Time, so I just spent a good chunk of time scrolling through eleven years worth of posts (though I gave up in 2013).  In doing so I realized that not only is it almost impossible to find good read-alikes for W in T, it is February, which means my blog is now eleven years old.

So I've pulled 11 posts from the 3500 plus I've written, to air them here again today.   Only one is a book review.  I haven't written much in the way of thoughtful posts for the past two years, and I feel vaugly inspired to do so more though since I didn't write any because of being busy with other things, and those things are still needing to be done, this inspiration is more or less a moot point.

--my ten year anniversary post, which I enjoyed writing very much

--a post on when small annoyances turn you against the whole book

--a environmentally inspired post exploring how "green" books are or aren't

--a recap of my Kidlitcon 2014 talk on finding passion in blogging

--a look at a book I'd never have heard about without blogging that I still think is utterly marvelous-the ABC of Fabulous Princesses (nb--they are birds)

--consternated thoughts about gender and middle grade books

--my Kidlitcon 2013 recap post--"2 cute pictures of my cat, or what I learned at Kidlitcon"

--Middle Grade Bloggers as Fans, Gatekeepers, Partners of the Industry, and Members of a Gender-Imbalanced Community, Part 1, and Part 2 

Something I didn't explicitly talk about which I've been thinking more about these past few weeks is the extent to which women in Kidlit do the bulk of the unpaid gatekeeping things that bloggers do (posting, comment, running Kidlitcon, volunteering for the Cybils).  So there's more food for thought here.....

--a post titled "why indexing is hard" which is really not so much about indexing as about what constitutes a "review"

--A post titled "why I wish I could be a guest in my own home" which I found amusing partly because of a comment i left on it--My dear boy ended up throwing up, so it was all worthwhile....

In any event, thank you all for a great eleven years, and if you have any recommendation for books with all of the following things, send them my way!

-brilliant girl unhappy in middle school
-the importance of sibling relationships
-making friends with other odd-ball kids
-travelling through time and space
-meeting helpful angelic like beings
-good vs evil, with inspiring message that we can choose love and fight darkness not just with love but with the arts and sciences
-overthrow of dystopia where utter conformity is required
-visiting strange planets, and learning to love aliens by looking past their monstrous appearance


This week's round-up of middle grade sci fi and fantasy from around the blogs (2/18/18)

Welcome to another round-up!  Let me know if I missed your post.

The Reviews

Arthur Quinn and the World Serpent, by Alan Early, at Say What?

Beanstalker and other hilariously scary tales by Kiersten White, at Jean Little Library 

The Countdown Conspiracy, by Katie Slivensky, at Say What?

A Dash of Dragon by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartowski, at Pages Unbound

A Dash of Trouble (Love Sugar Magic), by Anna Meriano, at Log Cabin Library

The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis, at Say What?

The Eternity Elixer, by Frank L. Cole, at Geo Librarian

The Eye of the North, by Sinead O'Hart, at Minerva Reads

Face Like Glass, by Frances Hardinge, at Say What?

Fairy Mom and Me, by Sophie Kinsella, at Middle Grade Mafioso

Gears of Revolution, by J. Scott Savage, at Hidden in Pages

Hitty, by Rachel Field, at Tales of the Marvelous

Last Day on Mars, by Kevin Emerson, at Say What?

Lords of Trillium (The Nightshade Chronicles) by Hilary Wagner, at Say What?

Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, at Say What?

A Problematic Paradox, by Eliot Sappingfield, at Charlotte's Library

A Properly Unhaunted Place, by William Alexander, at Say What?

Switched (Fairy Tale Reform School) by Jen Calonita, at Sharon the Librarian

The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, at Completely Full Bookshelf

Two at Ms. Yingling Reads--Granted, by John David Anderson, and Redworld: Year One, by A.L. Collins

Three at Minerva Reads--The Nothing To See Here Hotel by Steven Butler and Steven Lenton, Bee Boy: Clash of the Killer Queens by Tony De Saulles, and Night Zoo Keeper: The Giraffes of Whispering Wood by Joshua Davidson, Giles Clare and Buzz Burman

Authors and Interviews

Celine Kiernan (Begone the Raggedy Witches) at Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books

Other Good Stuff

The Cybils Award Winners were announced on Valentine's Day! Congratulations to all the finalists, in particular The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, by Stephanie Burgis!  The round 2 judges had a hard time picking just one book, and a hard time waiting till after the announcement to share their thoughts!  Mark Buxton, of Say What, got all his reviews up this week (in the review list above), and at Log Cabin Library, Brenda shares her thoughts on the finalists.

The shortlists for the Waterstones Children's book prize have been announced, and include a number of middle grade spec fic books.

The Amelia Bloomer list has been announced, with Miss Ellicott's School for the Magically Minded, by Sage Blackwood, representing MG Spec Fic.

Great Books for Young Star Wars Fans, at the B and N Kids Blog

"Re-reading Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles


A Problematic Paradox, by Eliot Sappingfield

A Problematic Paradox, by Eliot Sappingfield  (Putnam, middle grade, Jan. 2018), is a great pick for kids who enjoy wild and whacky sci fi school stories, and for those who love stories of smart, misfit girls finally finding their people.

Nikola Kross is that sort of girl.  Her intellect and knowledge has antagonized just about everyone in her boring, normal school in North Dakota.  Her father, a mad-scientist inventor type, has rigged up a comfortable enough home of the two of them in an abandoned warehouse store, but although he's taught Nikola a lot, and provided her with a state of the art security system and incredible escape plan just in case things go wrong, he hasn't given her much affection.

Fortunately, when a nasty, non-human monster going by the name of Tabbabitha shows up after school to kidnap Nikola, after already taking her father, the security system and escape plan kick in.  Nikola finds her self a student at the most unusual school on earth, a place for genius kids who are both human (the minority) and not so human kids with extraordinary abilities.  She has a lot of catch up (quantum mechanics and the manipulation of reality not being on the curriculum of her old school), and she has even more figuring out to do.

Questions like "who the heck are these people?" and "can I finally make friends?" keep Nikola busy.  And happily, she does make friends; her new room-mate, though she has little in common with Nikola, turns out to be just who she needs, and vice versa (the way the two of them sort out how they are going to co-habitate is lovely reading!).  And of course the larger, more explosive sort of questions keep her and her companions busy as well, as they try to foil Tabbabitha's evil plottings and schemings for world domination.

It's a fun read, slowed at tad by the amount of explanations readers (and Nikola) need to make sense of things, but not so much so as to be bothersome.  The friendship thread of the story was my favorite part; I found the school slightly less appealing, probably because I am older than the target audience and rather more jaded (does every school have to come with a beautiful mean girl?), but also because the headmistress got on my nerves lots (she's intended to be unhelpful, and succeeds....).  Also perhaps because I'm not personally interested in devices that need batteries and equations.  (Pushing further into introspection-maybe I didn't like the school because I would fail if I went there....).  On a more positive note, I thought the larger conflict part was interesting (I was afraid after meeting the over-the-top Tabbabitha and her henchmonsters that it would be farcical, but it wasn't).

So short answer--I enjoyed reading it, parts very much indeed, but it's not a personal most loved favorite though it is one I'd strongly recommend to readers who do like devices and devisings, and smart girls who are good at both!

Kirkus gave it a star, referencing "an endless parade of jokes (both sly and knee-slapping)." I am now wondering if I need to read the book again, because when I read it yesterday I was amused by many things but cannot recall a single "joke" (unless you count Tabbabitha's name).  Perhaps they are jokes only people who like batteries and equations will notice.  If you have read it and slapped your knee, let me know so that I can appreciate with more precision my failure as a reader!

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