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.
The Plot: Mason Buttle is a large, sweaty 7th grader with a cognitive disability. His best friend died a year and a half ago under suspicious circumstances and Mason was the last person to see him. Since the incident, the police have been questioning Mason trying to piece together clues to understand how it occurred. Unfortunately Mason does not understand that they suspect that he murdered his friend.
My Take: I really enjoyed this book from the beginning because I found Mason’s voice to be authentic. The murder case propels the story forward, but the reader will also appreciate the warmth of Mason’s character and his decency in the face of his challenges. He endures social ostracism and rejection but still finds constructive activities and works on the few relationships that give back to him. A highly recommended book to middle grade readers.
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to her website, Leslie Connor was born on the floor of her family’s home — no time to get to a hospital!
The Plot In 5 Sentences Or Less: When Crow was an infant, she washed ashore onto a tiny island located off of the coast of New England and a man named Osh found her and raised her as his own daughter. Local rumor held that Crow had come from the leper colony on Penikese Island, but there was never any proof of this. Now older, Crow has begun to question her origins and wants to know who her biological parents are. She and Osh visit Penikese and there find the beginnings of a mystery that will bring great wealth but also great danger to their small island.
My Take: I greatly enjoyed Wolk’s novel Wolf Hollow and was excited about Beyond the Bright Sea. I was impressed by Wolk’s description of the Elizabeth Islands and I thought that she did an excellent job of situating the reader into the rhythms of Crow and Osh’s life on the ocean. Wolk makes a good choice of framing the narrative around 3 characters, each with their own rough charm and simple decency. Some of the mystery turns on events that are a little too neat and coincidental, and I believe that book would have been stronger with a twist along the way. However, this remains a solid choice for young readers looking for a mystery or a historical fiction.
One Interesting Note About The Author: Lauren Wolk lives on Cape Cod and has visited many of the Elizabeth Islands.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: As the school year winds down, Derek Fallon finds a newspaper clipping in the attic about a girl who drowned 12 years ago off of Martha’s Vineyard. Derek is curious to find out more about the girl but is stonewalled by his parents. On top of that, because of his poor grades and general misbehavior, his parents decide to send him to Learning Camp over the summer. Derek struggles through the daily lessons and math games at the camp and in his spare time investigates the mystery of the drowned girl. When he convinces his parents to take a vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, Derek hopes that he will be able to get to the bottom of the mystery.
My Take: I had difficulty enjoying the character of Derek Fallon. In several instances throughout the book, he engages in behavior that is hurtful to others, but he never seems to have a full reckoning with it. The author’s intent was probably for comic effect directed at younger readers, but I couldn’t get past that Derek has a side to him that was cruel and selfish. The author showed little interest in exploring this side of Derek (which, honestly, would probably have made a more interesting read!) or the consequences of his actions. His immature behavior subsides for several chapters near the end when he is finding out the truth behind the mystery. Rather than it being a convincing character change, however, I found these chapters to be distinctly out of place with the rest of the book and I never believed Derek’s transformation to be earned. I would be hesitant to recommend this book to young readers unless they enjoyed sarcasm and poor choices on the part of the main character.
One Interesting Note About The Author: The My Life book series is illustrated by her son Jake.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: It is Christmas break and Milo is hoping to use his time off from school to rest and relax. Unfortunately, he lives with his parents in an old house turned inn located in the town of Nagspeake. As soon as he settles in with his books and hot chocolate, Milo’s vacation is interrupted by a strange group of characters that arrive at the inn. When some of the guests’ items go missing, Milo and his friend Meddy are drawn into deeper mysteries about the history of the house and the people that once lived there.
My Take: This is a finely realized mystery that will appeal to advanced elementary aged readers who do not mind wading through some exposition. I admire Milford’s ability to develop the world of Nagspeake and Greenglass House and to settle the reader in this interesting environment. I did find myself wishing for a mystery that was more finely focused on one point rather than spreading it out between the relationships of the guests, the missing items, and the history of the house.
One Interesting Thing About The Author: According to her website, Kate has also written articles on such arcane topics as “self-aware ironmongery and how to make saltwater taffy in a haunted kitchen.”
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Ethan and his family are moving from Boston to a small town in coastal Georgia, seeking a new start after a traumatic experience involving Ethan and his best friend Kacey. As Ethan learns to adjust to his new settings and to try to make peace with the past, he makes a new friend in Coralee, a lively girl who helps Ethan settle into his new life. But being friends with Coralee also brings its own complications, some that remind him of his painful experience with Kacey. As Ethan and Coralee’s friendship deepens, they discover that the past has a way of resurfacing in painful ways.
My Take: This was an excellent read and I can understand it’s inclusion on a lot of mock Newberry lists this year. Ethan’s pain is convincing and as readers we are pulling for him to find some way to resolve his grief and find solace in his new relationships. Standish does employ some well worn tropes (the mean girl, the bully, etc.) but none of that should bother younger readers. I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for good realistic fiction about trying to make peace with the past.
One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, when Ali Standish was young, she and her mother would play a story game. Ali would give her three things (like blueberries, a panda bear, and a snowy forest, for example) and her mother would be challenged to create a story out of it.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Logan Lang is a 4th grader super sleuth at Murkee Elementary who loves solving crimes almost as much as she loves reading about them in the school library. Gustavo Muchomacho is a fellow student who was raised on crime fighting TV shows and has a set of specialized disguise mustaches. When the merry-go-round at nearby Hurling Rivers Amusement park disappears into the ground, Logan and Gustavo are on the case! Events heat up when an army of moles begins demanding the lunch money from students at Murkee Elementary. Will Logan and Gustavo crack the case before the students lose all of their money to the underground rodents?
My Take: In line with his earlier book series “Wiley and Grampa’s Creature Features” and “Tales of a Sixth-Grade Muppet,” Kirk Scroggs blends outrageous humor with zany illustrations. Never taking itself seriously, “It Came From Beneath the Playground” makes references to ancient custodial burial grounds and moustaches that sprout nostril lights. Kids with shorter attentions spans will appreciate these funny, snappy books. Ages 7+
One Interesting Note About the Author: Kirk Scroggs was born and raised in Austin, Texas and studied film at the University of Texas.
The Plot In Five Sentences Or Less: Anna, José, and Henry are three young strangers who find themselves snowed in together at a Washington D.C. airport. As they begin to get to know each other, an important news flash is broadcast: the Star Spangled Banner has been stolen from the Smithsonian Institute. The three realize that all of their parents are members of the Silver Jaguar Society, which has the mission to protect the most valuable treasures of the world. Unfortunately, most of their parents are unavailable to help and the kids soon discover clues that lead them to believe that the Star Spangled Banner may be at the airport. Can the kids figure out who stole the flag and bring them to justice?
My Take: I felt that this book had a good premise in that one of the nation’s most valuable treasures has been stolen and only a group of kids can track down the thief. However, as the novel progressed, it began to feel a little redundant to me. Messner chose to have all of the action take place in an airport. This was a good choice for “Die Hard 2,” but not perhaps for this book. After the third or fourth scene in the baggage terminal, I was getting a little distracted. Still, it is a mystery to recommend to grades 3+
One Interesting Thing About the Author: According to her website, Kate Messner lives on Lake Champlain and enjoys kayaking.
The Plot in Five Sentences or Less: Kyle Keeley wins an essay writing contest and gets to spend the night in his town’s brand new public library with 11 of his peers. The library is a massive, technological marvel built by none other than Luigi Lemoncello, a one time small town boy who has gone on to make a fortune in the board game industry. When Kyle and his companions awaken the next morning, they find the doors of the library locked. Mr. Lemoncello has challenged them to a new game: escape from the library using the hidden clues. Will Kyle and his friends be able to crack the code in time and escape from Lemoncello’s library?
My Take: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” meets “The Westing Game.” This is a solidly entertaining and clever read that will appeal to both boys and girls ages 9 and above. Author Chris Grabenstein makes the puzzles challenging, but not ridiculously difficult. I appreciated the many nods and allusions to library lore and children’s literature. The characters are not especially fleshed out, but who cares? The fun is in watching the kids solve the puzzles and make their way out of the library. Ages 9+
One Interesting Note About the Author: According to his website, Chris Grabenstein used to write for commercials. One of his earliest bosses was James Patterson, with whom he now writes books!
The Plot in 5 Sentences or Less: Georgie Burkhardt is a 13 year old girl living with her mom and grandfather in Placid, Wisconsin in the 1870’s. When the book opens, Georgie is mourning the death of her older sister Agatha whose body has turned up miles away near Dog Hollow. The body is too decomposed to be recognized, but it is wearing Agatha’s distinctive dress. Georgie refuses to accept that her sister is dead and slips away one night with Agatha’s former beau Billy McCabe on a journey to Dog Hollow. But seeking answers will put them in great danger and test Georgie’s bonds of sisterhood.
My Take: This is an excellent YA mystery set in the mid west in the 19th century. The characters are well developed and I did not find them artificial as I so often do in YA fiction. Timberlake does an excellent job of expressing that Georgie is a strong female without making her into some over the top Katniss Everdeen. I did think that the ending could be more mournful and therefore more poignant and open ended, but people love happy endings. One Came Home makes me want to read more by Timberlake. Ages 12+
One Interesting Note About the Author: Passenger pigeons play a large role in this book. Timberlake’s inspiration to write One Came Home derived from her discovery of the rich history of this extinct bird. In 1871, the largest nesting of pigeons ever recorded occurred in south-central Wisconsin. The entire length of it was 125 miles long!