“But the aunties’ heads must be so hard by now, Anna thought. After centuries of pulling and tugging and yanking, their heads must be as hard as concrete.” page 39
Hooray for Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia.
Kane Miller, EDC Publishing, Tulsa, OK, 2010. (First published in London, 2008.)
Elementary chapter book fiction, 112 pages.
Lexile: 660L .
AR Level: 4.1 (worth 1.0 points) .
NOTE: This is the second book in the Anna Hibiscus chapter book series.
The continued adventures of Anna Hibiscus and her family in amazing Africa.
I wrote a few years ago about the first book in this series, simply titled Anna Hibiscus. While I loved the story and one of my older children read it independently, at the time of that review, they hadn’t enjoyed it as a read-aloud. Well, it was indeed just a moody day, because we have since been loving this series as a whole-family read aloud choice.
Much like the first, this book is actually four interconnected short stories which could be read individually.
“The air turned foggy, and Ash’s sweat turned to ice. He sank to the ground, his body wracked with pain.” page 164
The Savage Fortress (Ash Mistry #1) by Sarwat Chadda.
Arthur A. Levine, Scholastic, New York, 2012.
MG fantasy, 292 pages.
Lexile: 660L .
AR Level: 4.6 (worth 10.0 points) .
Ash Mistry is the pudgy video-game-loving Indian mythology nerd we never realized we needed to save the world. Spending the summer with his sister visiting his aunt and uncle, he gets caught up in a strange archaeological dig, which leads to even stranger events.
This past year, two debut MG fantasy series drawing from Indian culture have gotten a lot of buzz – Aru Shah in the Rick Riordan imprint, and Scholastic’s Kiranmala Chronicles. But those series are only releasing about one per year, so what’s a fantasy lover to do in the meantime? Binge this already-completed trilogy, of course!
“Their heavy suspicion made them appear an unwelcoming lot, but this was only partly true. The truth was that they were a lively, cultured sort of people – when you got to know them – who felt they had a great deal to be afraid of; it was this last bit – this certainty of fear – that helped substantiate the paranoia that demanded their isolation.” page 81
Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi.
Dutton Children’s, Penguin Random House, New York, 2017.
MG fantasy, 360 pages.
Lexile: 1080L .
AR Level: 7.5 (worth 11.0 points) .
NOTE: This is a direct sequel to Furthermore, although it focuses on a new character.
Laylee’s mother has died (but still haunts the house) and in his grief, her father left her alone as the final mordeshoor in the magical land called Whichwood. At thirteen, she is overburdened by unceasing demands of the living and the dead, struggling to survive with the pittance given her and care for all the dead while desperately ill herself.
I definitely enjoyed this book just as much as the first, maybe even more. Furthermore was a magical romp, a playful but also very serious journey through an ever-changing fantastical landscape. Whichwood takes place almost entirely in one place, and while highly magical, it’s an orderly magical place similar to Ferenwood, so the reader has some time to get fir bearings and delve into the culture and peculiarities of Whichwood.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi.
Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Random House, New York, 2016.
MG fantasy, 404 pages.
Lexile: 840L .
AR Level: 5.5 (worth 12.0 points) .
Alice Alexis Queensmeadow lives in the rather dull (at least by her standards) town of Ferenwood. She doesn’t quite fit in, partly because she is nearly colorless, and partly because of her quirky, temperamental personality.
Mafi has an unusual writing style – you are likely to either love or hate it, and it’s difficult to describe, so I’d highly suggest reading an excerpt from this book to see if her method will be a good fit for you. Much like her unique setting and eccentric protagonist, she writes with a blend of humor, sarcasm, drama, and pragmatic melancholy. Even on the chapters that proceed the main adventure and are mostly worldbuilding, really, everything moves at a breakneck pace.
In the hands of another writer, any one of the many places and magics that Mafi describes could be its own story, but much like Alice in Wonderland, this Alice is focused on meeting her goals. Her beloved Father is missing, former classmate Oliver is a thorn in her side, and her mother is cold and dismissive.
“It felt like the world was spinning and I was hanging on, hoping I wouldn’t get thrown off and fall into darkness.” page 155
Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith.
Clarion books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2015.
MG historical fantasy/horror, 214 pages.
Lexile: 600L .
AR Level: 4.2 (worth 6.0 points) .
In small-town 1930s Alabama, Hoodoo Hatcher is an unmagical twelve year old born into a folk magic family. It’s embarrassing enough to not be able to do a simple spell when your name is Hoodoo, but it could be downright dangerous when the Stranger comes to town looking for a boy with that name.
Hoodoo is an incredibly unique book. Which makes it memorable and interesting, but also a bit challenging to discuss. How do you classify it? Hoodoo is decidedly set in the past, and some elements are very evocative of the time and place. But it’s also definitely a magical book. The magical elements are not simply magical realism – spells have effects (although not flashy ones) and the existence and efficacy of hoodoo are generally accepted in the town.
There are many creepy aspects. Astral projection occurs a few times, and messages and items are sent from beyond the grave. Lives are in danger, people are possessed, cemeteries are dug up. I find it challenging to classify MG horror since it’s so much less scary, but my sense is that this would mainly fall into horror, with aspects of historical and fantastical fiction that make it a good entry point for readers of those genres.
“Though the distance from cabin to gangplank wasn’t more than twenty feet, I was protective of the ship. Slate had told me from a very young age not to talk to strangers about Navigation.” page 168
The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig.
Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2016.
Speculative fiction, 454 pages.
Lexile: 750L .
AR Level: 5.2 (worth 13.0 points) .
NOTE: This book is not suggested for MG readers despite the reading level.
Nix’s father is a Navigator who can travel to any place, real or imagined as long as he has a map for it, but he’s only obsessed with getting back to the one place he cannot reach – 1868 Honolulu, where Nix’s mother died.
Now having read this book, I can finally fully appreciate why all of the reviews were so maddeningly vague. This is, unfortunately, the type of book that you can’t discuss with any real depth unless you’ve read it, because to discuss anything interesting is to give away part of the action.
So I apologize in advance that you might find this review to also be maddeningly vague. In a book where the majority of the setting and even the time frequently changes (and further changes amongst real and imagined places), the focus is rather on both the characterization and the action. Both are fast-paced!
“I have to suck up as much pride and dignity as I can while it’s there for me.” page 200
Fire from the Rock by Sharon Draper.
Speak, Penguin Group, New York, 2007.
YA historical fiction, 231 pages.
Lexile: 760L .
AR Level: 5.0 (worth 9.0 points) .
Sharon Draper detours from her usual realistic fiction for a historical novel set in 1957 during school integration at Little Rock.
The novel opens with a bang as a white man’s vicious dog is turned loose on Sylvia’s 8-year old sister. Several incidents throughout give a realistic portrayal of what it was like to live during that time period. For example, although Sylvia takes great pride in her mother’s sewing ability, it’s also a practical necessity since she explains that at the time only white people were allowed to try on clothes in department stores or return them if they didn’t fit. The nature of historical fiction also makes these glimpses more interesting and memorable to the reader than say, a textbook. I think this book would work well in a high school history course.