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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.


2 thoughts on “Magic for Middle Grades

  1. Locked away in an attic bedroom with only shadows and mice as friends! That is one of the things I like about MG fiction, situations that would be gravely serious and awful in real life can still be presented as just high stakes fun. A hint of the last stages of childhood.

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