Author: R. J. Palacio
The Plot: 12 year old Silas lives with his father and a ghostly friend named Mittenwool, whom only Silas can see, on a farm in the west. Their peaceful life together is shattered when a gang of counterfeiters kidnaps the father in the middle of the night. Silas and Mittenwool embark on a journey across rugged country aided by several lawmen and a spirited pony to find the gang. Silas eventually realizes that he is searching not only for his father, but for answers to mysteries from his past.
My Take: Palacio has another homerun on her hands here. The author of the mega-popular book Wonder proves that she is a master of her craft in this western. The characters are complex and the kidnapping plot draws the reader in while cleverly shifting towards a deeper narrative towards the end of the book. For any young readers looking for a good story filled with fully realized characters, this is your ticket.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, Palacio “invented a baby toy called The Bobo Glove, a portable, wearable, washable activity toy for infants.” Pretty neat!
Title: Ophie’s Ghosts
Author: Justina Ireland
Publication Info: 2021 by Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins0
The Plot: In 1920’s Georgia, Ophie and her mother experience traumatic racial violence and decide to start a new life up north. Ophie realizes along the journey that she is able to see and interact with ghosts. After arriving in Pittsburgh, they procure jobs as housekeepers for a well off family named the Caruthers. Ophie soon befriends a ghost named Clara who met a tragic end at the house. Ophie decides to use her ability to commune with the supernatural to solve the mystery of Clara’s murder against the wishes of the Caruther family.
My Take: I felt that this book was slow for almost the first half. When we finally become fully engaged in Clara’s tragic story, the pace picks up and the story becomes much more interesting. By the end, I was won over and felt that the effort was worth it. Author Justina Ireland does an excellent job portraying the racial divisions of the time period. Those readers seeking a historical fiction mystery with a heavy dose of the supernatural will most likely enjoy this book.
About The Author: Justina Ireland has also written several books set in the Star Wars universe.
Title: The Collector
Author: K. R. Alexander
Publication Year: 2018
The Plot: During the summer, Josie and her younger sister Anna move with their mom from Chicago out to the countryside. They move into a large house with their Grandmother Jeannie whose health is failing. Their grandmother soon warns the girls not to go into the woods because a mysterious presence named ‘Beryl’ lives there. Mom explains that grandmother Jeannie is making stories up because her thinking is impaired. At night the girls hear strange sounds coming from the woods and wonder if their grandmother’s stories are true?
My Take: The strength of this story lies in its narrative momentum. Author K. R. Alexander chooses to stick tightly to the plot and not give extra exposition or characterization. Readers looking for world building or fully developed characters will be disappointed, but those wanting a snappy ghost story with some good scares will be pleased. Recommended to any middle grade readers who want a spooky story.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to his website, K. R. Alexander has traveled the world and even spent time as a performance circus artist with a focus on aerial and trapeze skills. He has recently joined Ecologi, an organization that offsets carbon emissions, and pledged to plant 500 trees for every book that he publishes.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Josh has had his imaginary friend Big Brother since kindergarten. They stayed close and played together until mom lost patience and forced Josh to perform a burial ceremony for Big Brother in the backyard. He hasn’t seen Big Brother since then, but now, entering 5th grade at a new school, Josh’s imaginary friend has returned. At the school a boy named Lucas has noticed Josh and also the strange shadow that follows him, even on cloudy days. Lucas will play an important role as Josh grapples with his new life in 5th grade and the return of Big Brother.
My Take: The strength of this book is how is takes the inner lives of young people seriously. When Josh was younger, Big Brother was mostly a playmate with whom to build LEGO creations. Now as Josh is entering 5th grade, Big Brother serves as that voice to push him out to football games, to go on bike rides with friends, and into the general social scene. Clearly this imaginary friend serves partly as a vehicle for Josh’s growing psyche that is waking up to the world at large. Without revealing any spoilers, Lucas’s imaginary friend serves more as a conduit for the grief and shame from an event many years prior. Nickerson should be given credit for finding a way to explore the anxieties of young people without making it too overwrought or artificial. I found the author’s presentation of the imaginary friends convincing and I never found myself bothered by this narrative device. Nickerson’s well crafted book asks the reader to consider and respect the complex inner lives of young people.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, Sara works part time in a library (yaaay!) and advises that one of the best steps to becoming a writer is to be a reader first.
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: Polly lives in a bustling house full of children and loves to read and think about ghosts. Ruby has the opposite problem in that she feels abandoned by her family but has the unwanted power of seeing the dead. By accident one day, the girls discover that they are neighbors and that their attics connect. As they began to secretly visit each other through the attics, they began to learn about the tragic past of Ruby’s family. An aunt that passed away years before begins to visit the girls and brings with her a frightening message.
My Take: This was great children’s book to read in the fall. I appreciated the rotating narration between the two girls and also how the author kept us in suspense as to whether Ruby was actually a ghost or not. I did feel that the book bogged down in certain places, but overall I would recommend this to children looking for a ghost book.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Charis Cotter lives in Newfoundland and has an abiding interest in ghosts.