Sail Away

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey is not your typical coming of age story.  Sixth grader Lewis Dearborn is socially awkward and painfully shy, but that all changes once he  befriends the seven pirate ghosts that live in his great-grandfather’s home.

Lewis’s great-grandfather passes away shortly after turning 101 years old.  He leaves his grand old home on the Atlantic coast, named Shornoway, to Lewis and his parents.  Lewis immediately feels drawn to his new tower room overlooking the ocean.  But, things change when he realizes that pirate ghosts are sharing the room with him.  Lewis’s great-grandfather promised them that Lewis would be the one to bring them to their pirate ship, the Maria Louisa, which is an exhibit in a nearby museum.   Their ultimate dream is to reach the pirate paradise, Libertalia.

Lewis reads them pirate stories, buys them second-hand clothes and prepares a plan to bring them back to their ship.  His growing friendship with the pirates emboldens him in other areas of his life (namely at school).

Ultimately, the pirates rediscover their ship and manage to get revenge on the band of pirates who caused their deaths.  The message of being bold enough to take a chance for change relates to multiple characters.  There is action, humor and unlikely friendships, all combining to make this a jolly good read 😉

Moonstone Curse

Loot by Jude Watson is my second to last read from this year’s Intermediate Nutmeg nominees.  March and Jules McQuin are twins who have been separated ever since the fateful night when their dad, mom and a friend were stealing cursed moonstones from Carlotta Grimstone.  The curse caused their mom’s death, the friend’s incarceration and foretold their death at the age of thirteen.  Their dad Alfie, who is an infamous robber, decided to separate them in an attempt to outsmart the curse.

March stayed with his dad and learned the life of an accomplished robber while his sister stayed with aunt Blue, a performer in a traveling trapeze/circus act.  In a terrible turn of events, March witnesses his dad “falling” from a building during a job.  Alfie is able to muster a few last words to his son before he passes away.

March is reunited with his long-lost twin when they are both sent to a juvenile facility back in the U.S..  It’s here where they meet up with their new “family,” companions Izzy and Darius.  This group of four pull from each other’s unique talents to follow the clues that Alfie has left behind.  Their mission is to steal back the rest of the moonstones in hopes of breaking the curse on their lives.  Of course, they also hope to make seven million dollars upon returning the gems to their original owner.

While this story at times stretches the realm of reality, it is action-packed and fast-paced.  I think it will definitely appeal to middle grade readers; I know it appealed to this middle-aged one!

New Life

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate was my son’s One School, One Book read this year.  Applegate is a consistently great author for me, and this book is no exception.  The story is a lyric narrative and word choice paints powerful emotions and images throughout the story.

It is Kek’s story, a refugee who lost his brother and father in war, and whose mother is currently missing after their camp was attacked.

Kek was brought to America to stay with his cousin and aunt, who were also relocated.  Kek tries to assimilate to American life in Minnesota.  He manages to find work at a nearby failing farm, just to have some semblance of home and to be near the farm’s solitary cow.  He befriends a foster girl in his grade too.  Kek’s character combines strength, softness and hope to get through the difficulties he is forced to face in his life.

Applegate’s note at the end of the story reminds us that people (for any number of reasons) may feel lost, alone or as though they don’t belong.  While I don’t think many can imagine quite what it would feel like to go through the atrocities that Kek and his family have endured, I think we all can feel compassion and offer kindness to those who need it most.

Pure Protectors

The Blood Guard by Carter Roy offers some quirky humor, fantasy and plenty of action.  This is another 2018 Intermediate Nutmeg nominee.

Ronan discovers that his mom is a member of the Blood Guard.  This is a secret group whose mission is to protect the thirty-six Pures throughout the world.  This is an important job since the world as we know it would be overcome with evil if too many Pures are ever killed.  To achieve their task, Blood Guard members have unique abilities, such as super speed, incredible “Matrix”-type fighting skills and for some, eternal life.

Ronan’s dad has disappeared, and his mom sends him off with a Protector (Jack) from the Blood Guard.  Their directive is to head to Washington D.C.  Early in the trip, Ronan ends up joining with a girl from his old neighborhood named Greta.  Throughout their journey they face many life-threatening situations as they come across the Blood Guard’s enemy, the Bend Sinister.  This group is determined to kill every Pure, and they are close to accomplishing their goal.

Ronan discovers a lot about his own capabilities (and more about his dad) in the process of arriving in D.C. and reuniting with his mother.  The story leaves off with understanding that there will be a sequel.  I’m not one for sequels normally, but I may have to look for this one.


Small and Strong

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech brought back memories of teaching fourth grade poetry (a LONG time ago).  Back then, I used Creech’s Love That Dog as one of our mentor texts, and Creech’s voice/style remains consistent in this newer publication.

This is a simple, yet meaningful little story.  Louie’s dad brings home a baby miniature donkey that doesn’t seem long for this world.  Louie gives all his love and caring to nurture the donkey, named Winslow.  His optimism is contrasted by his neighbor Nora, who lingers on the edges, trying not to care too much for fear of getting attached to a sickly little animal that may die.  (There’s more in the story about why she is so pessimistic.)

There are other pieces to the plot which lend to the overall story.  One is Louie’s brother Gus’s absence.  He is overseas in the military.  His family dearly miss him and cherish their sporadic letters from him.  Also, Louie’s neighbor can’t stand Winslow’s braying as it wakes her baby at all hours.  She starts the complaints that will force them to get rid of Winslow.

An uplifting ending brings everything together, and shows that little Winslow has become a strong protector.

Note: Title is categorized Intermediate, but I think it would most appeal to grades 2-4.


Last Day on Earth

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson follows three friends on their journey to give a final farewell to their beloved teacher, Ms. Bixby.  This is one of the 2019 Nutmeg Nominees.

Friends include Steve, a brilliant student living in the shadow of his “perfect” older sister.  There’s Topher, the creative-minded artist of the group, and Brand, the “tough guy” with a challenging family dynamic that he keeps to himself.  Each boy has his own reason for loving Ms. Bixby, and these individual reasons become apparent throughout the story.

Ms. Bixby shares her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer with her sixth grade class.  She ends up hospitalized before her scheduled last day which pushes the boys to take matters into their own hands.  They strive to give her the perfect last day by skipping school to gather all the things she loves.  This journey becomes the bulk of the story, as they eventually get to Ms. Bixby and enjoy a final special moment.

There is no doubt that Ms. Bixby is a special teacher and these characters create an unlikely and entertaining friendship.  Despite the positive Bixbyisms (motivational quotations) and some comical moments, this story left me feeling depressed.  I am curious to hear kids’ opinions after reading this, as I think it will affect each reader very differently.

Quest for Truth

Endling the Last by Katherine Applegate is a wild quest.  In a land ruled by the horrible Murdano family, there are five ruling classes: humans, dairnes (walking, talking dogs that are able to glide through air), felivets (fierce, multi-colored wild cats), terramants (huge bugs – ewww), and huge flying birds (I’m forgetting their official name because I gave the book away!  It’s veloci-something).  The Murdano is responsible for killing off all the dairnes, and then staging a huge funeral for the species.

Byx is the last living dairne after watching her family’s horrific murder.  She was always the runt and the underestimated member of her pack.  As the sole survivor, she must attempt to discover if there are more of her kind hidden on a floating island of legends passed down in her family.  To add to Byx’s depth, it turns out that dairne are natural lie detectors.  This adds an interesting element to the story.

Byx meets up with a wobbyk (a rabbit or rodent-like creature with three tails), a girl Khara and others they meet along the way (both good and bad).  Khara brings Byx to a trusted scholar, but he betrays Khara’s trust by ordering Byx’s death.  They manage to escape, but when they are seen at the funeral ceremony it begins a race for their lives.

This book is full of action.  There are epic battles and fiercely unique characters.  Despite that this isn’t my typical read, I couldn’t help but become immersed in this world and these magical characters.  This is a series, so the ending leaves you hanging.  Great storytelling!