Tag Archives: magic

Savvy by Ingrid Law

9780803733060by Ingrid Law
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Mississippi “Mibs” Beaumont is approaching her 13th birthday, when all other members of her family (save her non-magically-endowed father, Poppa) come into their particular magical power, or savvy. Mibs’ brother can create storms with his temper; her mother is perfect at everything (including being imperfect). Mibs is excited, until her father is in a serious accident and hospitalized miles away, taking away her mother and eldest brother, leaving them unguarded and swept up into a pity birthday party thrown by the pastor’s wife (whose son Will, incidentally, Mibs has a bit of a crush on). But when her powers descend during the party, it’s time to grab her remaining two brothers and hit the road – literally. They stow away on the pink bus of a bible salesman visiting the church, along with Will and his 16-year-old sister, Bobbi, hoping that he’s heading toward Mibs’ parents.

This one was recommended to me by a new 9-year-old friend. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, but I love to take kids’ recommendations seriously so this time I actually picked it up (well, downloaded it to my e-reader; same diff). The story of the adventure they go on with Mibs’ savvy (telepathy, specifically if a person has ink on their skin) and the other characters they meet, is delightful and tidy and I loved watching them all grow and change. I especially liked how Mibs handled not being ready to kiss Will, and his response. Perfect. One spoiler note, on top of the burgeoning heterosexuality: Mibs’ Poppa doesn’t entirely recover from his head injury, and I did appreciate how it was handled very realistically.

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Cam’s dad needs a birthday present for his son that doesn’t cost anything. A mysterious man gives him some cardboard and challenges him to use his imagination. The cardboard comes with specific, if odd, instructions: to return every scrap they don’t use, and they cannot ask for more. Cam’s dad lugs it home feeling despondent, but Cam is surprisingly game to try it and they make a man who then comes to life. Things quickly spiral out of control when the evil kid next door, Marcus, gets hold of the cardboard replicator they’ve also built (out of the magic cardboard) and starts building his own army of cardboard people. They build a whole world and then turn on the humans and it gets very dark, very fast. Marcus and Cam also have a moment of connection at one point, and Cam’s dad comes around and opens up to the woman next door who has expressed her interest in him, but he has previously been too absorbed in grieving his late wife. All in all, a surprisingly deep story full of adventure and suspense!

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez

9781368022828by Carlos Hernandez
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This book starts with a bang and never looks back or slows down, which is partly due to a forward by Rick Riordan, though beginning the story with Hernandez’s skillful first chapter would be plenty gripping. Our hero, Sal Vidon, is always at the center of the action, of which there is plenty. Sal is able to reach through some sort of wormhole to other parallel universes and bring things or people through to our universe. Sometimes they come with things that then disappear back with them when they return, which is inconvenient (or in the case of food already in your tummy, very sad). Sometimes it’s your dead Mami or a sick baby you’re trying to make better and you wish you could keep. Sal’s father works on fixing wormholes.

There’s a lot to love about this book. We open on a scene with new-kid-at-school Sal, bully Yasmany, and Yasmany’s “lawyer” and student council president Gabi (like a 7th grade Cuban Hillary Clinton). The relationships between the three of them are very rich. Gabi’s family is fascinating and includes many adults she refers to as Dad, some of whom are male, plus a mom, and Sal doesn’t make a big deal of this when he learns it, so we never learn more. Gabi also has a baby brother who is in the NICU, so a fair amount of the story takes place there. Sal himself has type-1 diabetes, which is one reason my (also type-1 diabetic) boss shoved it in my hands to read. The information about diabetes is skillfully, if not own-voices-y, presented, not really didactic. Sal is a magician, which is how he gains entry into his performing arts magnet middle school in Miami, and magic plays a large role in the story, not just a quirky thing about him. Sal’s mother passed away several years ago and his dad married his vice principal – again, not incidental to the story. Sal loved his mother and loves his American Stepmom (which is how he refers to her almost always). He also has a habit of bringing back his mother from other universes (part of why they moved). Finally, Yasmany’s home life is, predictably, rough – and it’s his mother who is the abuser (unclear if his father is in the picture).

There are also relationships with teachers and other kids, as well as the same cast of characters from other universes with whom Sal and Gabi interact, all of which add richness and depth to the story. There’s also a fair amount of Spanish and spanglish, and some interesting slang (apparently in Sal’s world, being called a “sandwich” is an insult?). Altogether very well done and I’m looking forward to book 2, which should be out next year!

Secondhand Wishes by Anna Staniszewski

9781338280173by Anna Staniszewski
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Seventh-grader Lexi just wants to maintain order and balance in her world, which is usually frighteningly out of whack. Her 4-year-old brother is in and out of hospitals a lot and her parents are stressed, her mother even losing her job because of the time she has to devote to his care. Lexi buys four-leaf clovers from her classmate to help with her luck and is constantly making deals with the universe for added protection. She’s also struggling with her best friend abandoning her for a new friend, when all Lexi wants is for things to continue just as they were. So when she comes across a bag of wishing stones, she has a lot of wishes to make – if they even work. She tries one and it does seem to work – except not exactly how she imagined. By the time she gets to her fourth wish, things are really out of hand and she seems to be in a bit of a pickle. But her aunt saves the day in surprising ways and Lexi learns a lot. In the end, though things go back to how they were before, Lexi is changed.

This book is delightful. I can see kids with anxiety and a need for control really identifying with Lexi. I loved that Lexi breaks out of her comfort zone and tries out for the dance team, even after a really embarrassing first attempt. Her best friend, Cassa, reveals that she is moving to England, and by the end of the book, Lexi is okay with that (and even starts to make friends with the once-hated interloper, Marina). I especially like that Lexi’s aunt also comes out of her shell a bit and reconnects with her childhood best friend. There are lots of little details and hints planted masterfully here and there and it’s just a very sweet story.

Bob by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead


by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Ten-year-old Livy comes back to Australia to visit her grandmother. Her last visit was five years ago, which she doesn’t remember at all. She also doesn’t remember the friend she made then, and that is because he is partly magic. His name is Bob and he’s been waiting in Livy’s closet for five years, because she told him to. He is crushed that she doesn’t remember him, but it turns out there’s a reason for that. While solving the mystery of who Bob is and how to get him back home, Livy rekindles her friendship with Sarah, her grandmother’s neighbor and learns about memory and friendship and water.

I love these two writers and am always intrigued by collaborations, mostly because it involves a meshing of two processes, which generally authors get pretty used to doing very much on their own. I spend a lot of time wondering who wrote which lines or chapters, what their process ended up looking like, when they laughed or yelled at each other, and whether they were satisfied with the final product. This story is pretty seamless so I’d like to think that the process went pretty well for them! I did have trouble not picturing Bob as Roger the alien from American Dad, but that might just be me. Nicholas Gannon‘s sparse, sepia-toned illustrations definitely helped.

Spoiler: I loved the ending, and who Bob turns out to be, which is a well dweller, and his absence has caused a drought in Australia. When a well dweller gets too far away from the well, he forgets where he came from. A small detail I bet I’ll forget is that Livy has named her baby sister BethAnn, and it turns out that Bob has two sisters named Beth and Ann. Some small things do get lodged into her memory somehow, and these echoes make lovely little details for the story and even help it along. Most adults can’t see Bob at all, it seems, though Sarah’s little brother, Danny, can. I think he sees him as a chicken, because of 5-year-old Livy’s improvised chicken suit that he wears, which is a hilarious image. I loved that Bob reads the dictionary and rebuilds a Lego pirate ship and counts to 987,654,321 six times in the five years between Livy’s visits. But mostly I love that he forgives her and that they are friends again, easily.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill


Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
It’s not hard to see why this one won the Newbery medal this year. It’s head and shoulders above all the books I’ve read recently. It’s hard to know where to start with this one. It’s the story of a town who every year leaves the newest born baby in the woods as a sacrifice to the witch. But we also hear the story from the witch’s point of view, which is that she has no idea why the babies are abandoned and so she brings them to other towns, to loving families who adopt the children. One year, the witch finds herself unable to let go of a baby, and raises her as her own granddaughter, but mistakenly feeds the girl moonlight which enmagicks the girl. Eventually, the witch has to subdue the wild, powerful girl, a spell that will break when she turns 13. In the meantime, the stories of the girl’s mother, a young man and another old witch from the town, and the swamp monster and dragon who are the girl’s other family members, converge in an epic showdown in the woods. The rhythm of the narrative has a classic, timeless feel that will ensure its staying power.
Young readers will likely miss the political allegory, though by the time they are rereading with adult eyes, there will surely be a new situation to apply it to. It’s ultimately the story (or several stories) of love and hope and democracy triumphing over oppression and sorrow and fear and authoritarianism. There are many, many beautiful lines, not least of which is an exchange about the library:
“‘The Tower is meant to be a center for learning, not a tool of tyranny. Today the doors are opening.’
‘Even the library?’ Wyn said hopefully.
‘Especially the library. Knowledge is powerful, but it is a terrible power when it is hoarded and hidden. Today, knowledge is for everyone.’ She hooked her arm in Wyn’s, and they hurried through the tower, unlocking doors.” (p.312).