Spies and Planes, Friends and Foes

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TITLE: Code Name Verity

AUTHOR: Elizabeth Wein

LENGTH:  352 pages


SUMMARY: (via amazon.com) Oct. 11th, 1943—A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

BRIDGE: This book obviously lends itself to teaching about World War II. Because Wein based her story on real-life organizations and situations, students could research the different organizations and military roles discussed in the book. It would be interesting to also research and compare whether the Americans or any other country allowed women to serve the war effort in this way. Mapping the locations discussed in the book along with the timeline of the war and location of Allied and Axis forces would be a good history project.

The book could also be used in discussion of writing perspectives. Queenie’s use of third person point of view when talking about herself is interesting. It would be fun to use the book as a mentor text and have students write about something that happened to them but have them write about it in third person. As an additional writing exercise, it would be fun to have students create a journal in the way Queenie has done, based on truths but filled with misinformation, perhaps based on a shared event from school. Students could even work in groups with other students with whom they have a shared experience that they could fabricate.

READERS: This book spans all genders and interests. It is a story of friendship and adventure and intrigue and sorrow and joy. I think adults and younger readers alike would enjoy the book. While middle schoolers might not pick up on the more subtle clues throughout the book, they would still enjoy the story.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoyed this book might also enjoy Foster’s War by Carolyn Reeder, The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine, or Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys.
**Look for an additional post concerning Code Name Verity including an online discussion and a surprise!


Step right up! It’s time for the CIRCUS!

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TITLE: The Night Circus

AUTHOR: Erin Morgenstern

LENGTH: 528 pages


SUMMARY:  (via amazon.com) The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

BRIDGE: I think the most obvious bridge for this title is Dickens. The first book that springs to mind is Great Expectations.  Elements of Pip and Estella’s relationship linger over Marco and Celia and the adults who influence them are similar to Pip’s benefactor and Miss Havisham. These characters are on a quest and so one could also draw parallels to any classic quest story as well. Morgenstern’s Victorian England and its New World counterparts are impeccably crafted and the magical elements are subtly unbelievable and awing, as good magic should be. By studying the speech, customs and settings of the story, one could draw comparisons to any of Dickens’ work or other Victorian authors. There are even subtle nods to Grimm stories that one could map throughout the book. The intricate braid of plotlines would also be an interesting point of discussion. Students could map the different plots and physically draw them on timelines to have them intersect at the crucial points. This would also be an excellent book with which to study character development and relationships. The complexity of the characters and their relationships would also require some charting.

READERS: Not for the faint of heart, I would recommend this book more for high schoolers and adults. I do not think many middle school readers would have the maturity to understand the complexity of Celia and Marco’s world. Readers who enjoy magical stories will devour this book and those with a taste for the strange and imaginative will be enthralled. **A note on the audiobooks: Jim Dale’s narration is impeccable, as usual. I thoroughly enjoyed the formal and appropriately creepy reading of the entire thing. Definitely will be on my list of re-listens.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy this book will also like any of the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.

Here, There Be Dragons

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TITLE: The Shadow of Black Wings, Book One of The Year of the Dragon

AUTHOR: James Calbraith

PUBLISHER: Flying Squid (July 2012-ebook & paperback)

LENGTH: 338 pages

SUMMARY: (adapted from amazon.com)

An ancient empire stands on the brink of a civil war. His arrival may push it over the edge.

It is the sixteenth year of Queen Victoria’s enlightened rule and the world trembles before the might of her ironclad navy and the dreaded Dragon Corps. The largest ship ever built sails from the Brigstow Harbour on a journey to the mysterious lands of the Orient. Its load: a regiment of the Royal Marines and Bran ap Dylan – freshly graduated in Dracology from the Llambed Academy of Mystic Arts.

On the other side of this world, the empire of Yamato has been sealed from the rest of the world for the last two centuries. A wizard’s daughter, Sato, witnesses her father joining an anti-government conspiracy. Her friend Nagomi, training to be a priestess, is haunted by dark visions that she must keep secret. Neither of them is aware that a change is coming to Yamato… on the wings of a dragon.
REVIEW: The summary of this book does not do it justice. In fact, I had to make some changes to the wording of the summary itself to make it fit better to how I read the story. Almost until the last word, the summary seems to indicate that this is a piece of historical fiction. It is not. There are dragons and magic from almost the first page. Thankfully, before diving into the book, I had read nothing about it; my impression of the book overall might have been extremely different if I had expected the true Victorian Empire rather than this excellent parallel world.
Calbraith has created an EXTENSIVE and exquisite “alternate” version of Queen Victoria’s world. There are recognizable elements of the Victorian Empire, its reach, and the competing and/or colonized countries. But there is also a layered world of magic that exists within this somewhat familiar history. Even with the references to real history, this book is what I would call high fantasy. There are complex political and military maneuverings as well as entire races of people and dragons to absorb. The Asian element of the story made some of the names and places a little difficult for me because, as an English teacher, I always do my best to pronounce names correctly even in my head as I read. The descriptions of setting and character alike are rich and detailed. The inclusion of a map helps keep it all straight but Calbraith’s attention to specifics and detailed histories of each of these places and peoples is impressive.
The characters are equally layered. It was so refreshing to read a main character with the correct balance of adolescent cockiness and normal, developmental self-doubt. These days so many books make their teenage main character either too mature and insightful for their age or the character is so whiny I almost can’t take it. Bran is ready to be out on his own and shows that independence while also admitting to himself (and occasionally others) that he may not be as grown-up as he’d like everyone to think. He battles with self-doubt but it’s not cloying. Sato and Nagomi are a well-balanced pair. I’m hoping to get a little more character development from them in the subsequent books in the series.
The storylines are well-written but the organization of the book as a whole threw me a little. It is the ONLY complaint I have about the book. The Prologue seems to float on it’s own until about two-thirds of the way through the book. The first half of the book proper deals with Bran’s story. Then, rather abruptly, the reader is thrown into Yamato with Sato and Nagomi with no transition. One doesn’t even realize it is Yamato until a ways into this second part of the book. I would have liked to see alternating chapters or perhaps the different threads labeled as Part I and Part II or something. I was utterly confused for about 15 pages before I realized the stories would intersect. Something similar happens at the end of Book One, I assume to lead readers into the next book. I just would have liked a smoother transition.
Overall, this is worth your time if you are a fantasy fan. The detail and intricacy of the writing is impressive. With inclusion of races and histories, it almost reminds me of Tolkein – in Asia. With dragons. I think high school fantasy fans will eat it up. Middle school fantasy fans will like the story but some of the nuances may be lost on them. I’m interested to see where the story goes in the rest of the series and would suggest we all keep an eye on Calbraith.
You can find information about The Year of the Dragon Series and James Calbraith on his website: jamescalbraith.wordpress.com
** Note on cover art: the cover you see here is an alternate version of the book’s cover. I like it better than the one featured on the US amazon.com site. Honestly, the other cover with the boy on the front put me off a little. I was happy to see they’ve converted to a different cover for all of the books.

More Movie News: Mortal Instruments

Headey as J. Fray

Lena Headey, Jared Harris and More Join The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Source: Screen Gems
July 19, 2012

Lena Headey (300, “Game of Thrones”), Jared Harris (“Mad Men,” Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) and Godfrey Gao (All About Women) have joined the cast of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, which has also added that subtitle to its official production name.


Harris as Hodge

Headey will play Jocelyn Fray, Harris will play Hodge Starkweather, and Gao is set to portray Magnus Bane. They join the previously-announced Lily Collins as Clary Fray, Jamie Campbell Bower as Jace Wayland, Robert Sheehan as Simon Lewis, Jemima West as Isabelle Lightwood, Kevin Durand as Emil Pangborn and Robert Maillet as Samuel Blackwell.

“The Mortal Instruments” is a series of six young adult fantasy books written by Cassandra Clare and published by Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry Books. In the series’ first book, the #1 New York Times bestseller “City of Bones,” set in contemporary New York City, a seemingly ordinary teenager, Clary Fray, discovers she is the descendant of a line of Shadowhunters, a secret cadre of young half-angel warriors locked in an ancient battle to protect our world from demons. After the disappearance of her mother, Clary must join forces with a group of Shadowhunters, who introduce her to a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld, filled with demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves and other deadly creatures.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones movie is targeting an August 23, 2013 release.

Once again, thanks to Dotti and the YALSA list serve for keeping us informed.

Author Interview: John Corey Whaley – WHERE THINGS COME BACK

Click for Whaley’s website

In conjunction with July’s Reading Road Trip hosted by I Like These Books and Icey Books, I am hosting the state of Arkansas. In keeping with the Arkansas theme, I was lucky enough to interview author John Corey Whaley whose book Where Things Come Back is set in Arkansas. Don’t forget to enter the RRT GIVEAWAY. Click on the RRT link for instructions on how to enter. Now…TO THE INTERVIEW!

AUTHOR: John Corey Whaley


Length: 228 pages

Publisher: Atheneum Books (Simon&Schuster)

Release Date(s):   Hardcover-May 3, 2011/Paperback-July 24, 2012

1.    How did the idea forWTCB come to you? Was the story already there or did the AR woodpecker incident spark the story?

I’d been looking for a coming-of-age story for years, having tried my hand at starting and failing to complete dozens of books while in college.  Then, one day I hear a radio story on NPR about the Ivory-billed woodpecker in Brinkley, AR, and BAM!  I had my setting and I knew where to tell the story I’d been wanting to tell.

2.   In the past few years the YA genre has exploded and short chapters have become a noticeable trend. Did your shorter chapters come about organically or were they created during editing?

Great question!  I’ve actually always been a huge fan of short chapters—mostly because of my attention problems (haha).  I actually combined and lengthened most of the chapters in WTCB during the editing process.  They were much shorter originally.  What I’m working on now has very short chapters throughout and I love it.

3.   What did you come up with first: the characters or the plot?

After I heard the NPR story about the bird, I immediately knew I wanted to center the novel around a teenage boy trying to grow up in a small town where something crazy and ridiculous is going on.  So, I think it’s fair to say that I started with setting and characters and then structured a plot (or two, actually) around them. 

4.   Knowing that you’re from Louisiana, what prompted you to set the story in Arkansas?

Well, I grew up literally on the Louisiana/Arkansas stateline, so I spent much of my childhood in Arkansas camping, fishing, boating, etc.  I’ve always loved the mountains, lakes, and rivers in Arkansas and sort of felt like it was my state too.

5.    Do you have any personal ties to Arkansas?

As above mentioned, I spent weeks and weeks out of every summer as a child camping in Arkansas and I think that had a huge influence on this story.

6.   I suspect that many of the characters’ names (Cabot Searcy) are also Arkansas towns’ names. How many characters have an “Arkansas” name? Why did you do this?

Correct!  I don’t have a count off hand, but there’s Mena Prescott, Lucas Cader (last name), Benton Sage, Cabot Searcy, Alma Ember, Fulton Dumas, Cullen Witter (last name) , Russell Quitman, and Vilonia Kline.  So, yeah, at least 9 of them.  Why do this?  Why not?  Haha.  I was trying to find a unique way to use the character names to amplify the setting and I’d already taken “Ada Taylor” from road sign for two towns in Louisiana, and “Cullen” from another, so I thought I’d try to do the same with Arkansas towns. 

7.   Cullen has an interesting habit of imagining scenarios to remove himself from the reality of what’s happening around him. Some readers might find this use of “third-person-removed” narration a little off-putting. Why did you decide to write Cullen’s imaginings this way?

Cullen’s third-person daydreams are my way of doing two things:

1) Showing that the traumatic situations that Cullen faces are causing him to somewhat mentally detach.  He’s lost his cousin to drugs and then his brother goes missing, so, naturally, he’s going to react to the stress and trauma in ways that can’t always be explained. 

2) To remind the reader that Cullen, who often observes and speaks of the world in a beyond-his-years manner, is still a teenager.  This is why I have him imagine zombies—to show his detachment and also to show that, at the end of the day, he think about the things other teenage boys might think about as well.

8.   What was the inspiration for including The Book of Enoch in the story?

Once I’d decided I wanted to add a second narrative, I mentioned to a friend that I was considering the inclusion of a religious cult and she, instead, led me to the Book of Enoch, which she’s read about somewhere.  As soon as I read it, I knew it belonged in WTCB—angels, monsters, and the angel Gabriel (who shares a name with Cullen’s younger brother).  It was meant to be.

9.   Why the Lazarus woodpecker angle?

The bird represents hope and maybe even false hope to a town full of downtrodden people…I saw an immediate religious connection there that I wanted to explore and only after considering the idea that a bird could come back from the dead did I decide to make the story about the parallel story of the search for a missing kid and, also, the search for faith.

10.         What do you hope readers take away from WTCB?

I hope, ultimately, that readers take away some sense that despite the crazy, ridiculous, terrifyingly hilarious world around us, that we’ll all be okay, that we’ll make it.  With WTCB, I wanted to explore the misinterpretation of faith and, I think, of life itself, and I hope that maybe readers will see why looking at the world the wrong way can change everything.

Writing Questions

1.    Have you always been a writer? If not, when and why did you start?

I started writing when I was eleven or twelve and I just really liked it—I always liked the idea of creating stories and seeing what I could come up with that I hadn’t seen or heard or read somewhere. 

2.   Do you have a particular writing schedule or routine? Could you briefly describe it?

I can’t describe it because I don’t have one, really.  I wish I were more disciplined sometimes, but I find that when I try to make myself write, I write really crappy stuff.  So, I just wait until I become obsessed with a story and then I usually can’t keep myself from working on it until it’s done.  It’s frustrating sometimes, but I have a lot of fun being a writer and doing things my own way.

3.   Where do you write? Why?

I say I can write pretty much anywhere, but that’s sort of a fib.  I need a quiet (silent, really) room and a desk.  No music.  No TV.  Just writing and getting up to pace around the room and talking to myself.

4.   What is the hardest part of drafting for you?

I’m usually fairly quick to come up with the first third of a book and, in doing so, realizing what I want the last third to include.  It’s the middle third that gives me trouble sometimes.  I usually have to take a break and reassess when I get to the half way point.

5.    How did you originally come to be published? (long road or short?)

I queried agents and publishers for about 3 ½ years while I was teaching public school English in Louisiana and, finally, after many manuscript requests that fizzled out, an agent loved my work, read it in one day, and called to say he wanted to represent me.  After that, it all happened really fast—the book sold to my publisher about two months later and here I am.

6.   How do you handle criticism/rejection/bad reviews?

I think I handle criticism pretty well, as long as it’s founded on some intelligible argument.  I’ve been slightly frustrated with a few “bad” reviews that I thought were a bit melodramatic and off-base, especially concerning the use of religion in the book.  For the most part though, I’ve learned to laugh off the really mean stuff and shake it off.

7.   What is one part of writing craft every aspiring author ought to thoroughly understand?

Like my editor says: There are only about 5 stories in the world and the important thing is to find a way to tell one with your own brand of originality and passion.  I think that’s important, especially when you struggle for inspiration. 

8.   Do you read other authors’ books while you have a work in progress? Why or why not?

I do, but it usually needs to be something fairly different from what I’m writing.  I’m reading mostly adult fiction right now as I’m working on finishing my second YA book. I think reading things with similar themes, characters, etc., can sort of accidentally get into your brain and make you question too much about your story. 

9.   What is the most rewarding part of writing?

I think the most rewarding part is the idea that the things I write can have some impact on someone.  I never really imagined that readers would respond to my writing the way that some have, so I take a lot of care and time into writing stories that try to be honest and meaningful and I’m so grateful that I get to do my dream job and have such a great time with it.

10.         Are any of the characters or MC modeled after real people?

Only two of them—Cullen and Gabriel. They’re modeled after the same person at different ages.  Can you guess his name?  He has Cullen’s initials. Hint, hint.

11.What has been your favorite part of the book launch?

It has to be all of the amazing people I’ve met—especially my teen readers and librarians all over the country.  I’ve met so many interesting, passionate people while book touring and I can’t imagine a more fun job.

“Funner” Questions

PBJ or ham & cheese?                                    PB&J

Coffee or tea?                                                Coffee

Summer or Winter?                                                WINTER!

Typing or longhand?                                    Typing-I have the worst penmanship on Earth.

Which comes first: plot or character?            Character

Emails or letters?                                                Emails, but letters can be fun too.

Sugary or salty treats?                                    Sugary

Dogs or cats?                                                            Dogs.  I’m allergic to cats.

Indoors or outdoors?                                    I love both, but outdoors in nice weather.

Beer or wine?                                                Neither, I don’t drink. (Coke Zero?) haha.

Mac or PC?                                                            Mac.  For sure.

Outline or fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants?            FBTSOMP for sure.  Outlines are scary

Coke or Pepsi?                                                            COKE (Diet or Zero…hahaha)

Arkansas’ Writing Tradition-July’s Reading Road Trip Blog Tour & GIVEAWAY

When I “applied” to be a part of July’s 2012 Reading Road Trip across North America, I wanted to host Arkansas because I feel, much like the state itself, that Arkansas’s literary history is often overlooked. Now that the folks at I Like These Books and Icey Books have given me this opportunity, I am so excited to share some of the interesting books and talented authors from my home state of Arkansas. So keep reading to learn about Arkansas’ literary legacy and to learn how to enter the AWESOME ARKANSAS BOOK GIVEAWAY. Being an education-based blog, you didn’t think you could get away without learning something, did you?

There are a number of well-known authors and poets who are Native Arkansans and who have in the past or still do call Arkansas home. **

  • Shirley Abbott – writer of memoirs and autobiographies detailing her childhood in Hot Springs.
  • Maya Angelou-born in and raised in Stamps, AR, Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is largely autobiographical about her childhood in Arkansas.
  • Bette Greene-born and raised in Parkin, AR and eventually living in Memphis, Greene’s Summer of My German Soldier tells the fictional tale of a young girl’s life near the real-life WWII POW camp outside of Wynne, AR.
  • John Grisham – born in Northeast AR, his book A Painted House* draws on his childhood memories of the area to tell the story. This book was made into a TV-movie in 2003 starring Logan Lerman who later played Percy Jackson.
  • Donald Harington – born & raised in the Arkansas Ozarks, many of Harington’s books take place in the fictional town of Stay More situated in the Ozarks.*
  • Charles Portis – was born in El Dorado and returned there recently, Portis’s Westerns center on the Fort Smith area in Northwest AR and some of Oklahoma during the height of the Western era. His most famous, True Grit was made into a film starring John Wayne in 1968 and remade with Jeff Bridges is 2011.
  • Charlie May Simon – who writes biographies for young readers, has written two memoirs recounting her return to backwoods AR to focus on her writing.
  • Miller Williams – Arkansan poet made more widely known when he read at President Clinton’s second inauguration.

*These authors’ books will be the GIVEAWAY items.

** This information and more can be found at the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

So, in honor of these fabulous Arkansas children’s authors, all week long I will be featuring reviews of Arkansas-related texts with tips on how to use them in the classroom AND giving away THREE different Arkansas-related books. To enter the GIVEAWAY, please comment on one of the Arkansas related posts WITH AN ACTUAL COMMENT and make sure to leave your email address so we can contact you if you win one of the books. The GIVEAWAY is open to US residents only and the deadline to enter is Monday 23 July. Enter to win ONE of the following titles:

LIGHTNING BUG by Donald Harington – Although he was born and raised in Little Rock, Donald Harington spent nearly all of his early summers in the Ozark mountain hamlet of Drakes Creek, his mother’s hometown, where his grandparents operated the general store and post office. There, before he lost his hearing to meningitis at the age of twelve, he listened carefully to the vanishing Ozark folk language and the old tales told by storytellers. Set in the Ozark hamlet of his creation, Stay More, based loosely upon Drakes Creek, Lightning Bug tells the story of Latha Bourne, the attractive postmistress of Stay More. She didn’t expect to see Every Dill again. Now everyone in the village is surprised that Every had the nerve to reappear in this tale of loss and of finding. (via amazon.com)

A Painted House by John Grisham – A Painted House is a story inspired by Grisham’s own childhood in rural Arkansas. The narrator is a farm boy named Luke Chandler, age seven, who lives in the cotton fields with his parents and grandparents in a little house that’s never been painted. The Chandlers farm eighty acres that they rent, not own, and when the cotton is ready they hire a truckload of Mexicans and a family from the Ozarks to help harvest it.

For six weeks they pick cotton, battling the heat, the rain, the fatigue, and, sometimes, each other. As the weeks pass Luke sees and hears things no seven-year-old could possibly be prepared for, and finds himself keeping secrets that not only threaten the crop but will change the lives of the Chandlers forever. A Painted House is a moving story of one boy’s journey from innocence to experience. (via amazon.com)

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley is a story inspired by Whaley’s summers in Arkansas. Just when seventeen-year-old Cullen Witter thinks he understands everything about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town, it all disappears. . . .

In the summer before Cullen’s senior year, a nominally-depressed birdwatcher named John Barling thinks he spots a species of woodpecker thought to be extinct since the 1940s in Lily, Arkansas. His rediscovery of the so-called Lazarus Woodpecker sparks a flurry of press and woodpecker-mania. Soon all the kids are getting woodpecker haircuts and everyone’s eating “Lazarus burgers.” But as absurd as the town’s carnival atmosphere has become, nothing is more startling than the realization that Cullen’s sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother Gabriel has suddenly and inexplicably disappeared.

While Cullen navigates his way through a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young missionary in Africa, who has lost his faith, is searching for any semblance of meaning wherever he can find it. As distant as the two stories seem at the start, they are thoughtfully woven ever closer together and through masterful plotting, brought face to face in a surprising and harrowing climax.

Complex but truly extraordinary, tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, this novel finds wonder in the ordinary and emerges as ultimately hopeful. It’s about a lot more than what Cullen calls, “that damn bird.” It’s about the dream of second chances.

Magic for Middle Grades

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TITLE: Liesl & Po

AUTHOR: Lauren Oliver


LENGTH: 320 pages

PUBLISHER: Harper (an imprint at Harper Collins Publishers)

SUMMARY: Liesl lives in a tiny attic bedroom, locked away by her cruel stepmother. Her only friends are the shadows and the mice—until one night a ghost appears from the darkness. It is Po, who comes from the Other Side. Both Liesl and Po are lonely, but together they are less alone.

That same night, an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, bungles an important delivery. He accidentally switches a box containing the most powerful magic in the world with one containing something decidedly less remarkable

Will’s mistake has tremendous consequences for Liesl and Po, and it draws the three of them together on an extraordinary journey.

BRIDGE: This book would be an excellent link to works by Dahl, Grimm, or even Dickens. The spirit elements have links to Dahl, there are clear fairy tale undertones, and the children are certainly suffering in Dickensian fashion. Even though there is no concrete setting, the story is definitely happening in the past given the lanterns, carriages, and discussion of alchemy. In small groups, one could have students draw comparisons between Oliver’s text and these other classic authors’ tales. Teachers could also have students analyze the tone in the story and how the black & white illustrations function with this element of the story. Ultimately, the message of hope is important and parallels can be drawn specifically with Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. And, because this follows a traditional quest format, this book could be a great link to texts like The Odyssey.

READERS: This book is perfect for middle-grade readers. It has just the right balance of scary and sweet to keep readers turning pages. It’s a great transition book for readers who are ready to graduate from chapter books but still need a few illustrations to keep them engaged. Boys and girls alike would enjoy the story and characters.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy this book might also enjoy A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz, The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy, or Bigger Than a Breadbox by Laurel Snyder.