As I mentioned in previous posts, sometimes, as readers and reviewers, we get so caught up in the “newest and best” releases that we forget about the goldmine of exceptional kids’ books that already exist! The following are MORE books the Audrey Press Team has read over the last 4+ years that they feel are worthy of a fresh look.
This summer reading booklist is dedicated to more advanced readers or middle-graders who just love great books!
The Headmaster’s Cave by D.S. Allen
Every town has their ghost stories and tales of the past that remains mysteries to this day. But the town of Ballymagee is tainted by a horrible past: the murder of seven students by their headmaster. Descendants of the victims still mourn their families, but they all accept the mystery at face value—that the crazy headmaster kidnapped the kids and murdered them in a cave by the coast.
When friends George, Katie, and Dougie receive a mysterious email asking them to come to Headmaster’s Cave (a dangerous journey), they are both intrigued and frightened. They all three want answers, especially Dougie and George, both descendants of victims, however, George and Katie both recognize the danger of the journey and agree to go on a different, less lethal, adventure. But this isn’t good enough for Dougie. When George and Katie, along with George’s best four-legged friend Flanagan, realize that Dougie has decided to meet the sender of the mysterious emails, they have no choice but to go after their friend and help him.
After encountering many trials along the way—bullies, The Magic Forest, Old Maggie and her pack of bloodthirsty dogs, and bullies again—they are saved by a gentle giant by the name of Leonard who seems to appear out of nowhere. He explains that he can lead them to Dougie, who is already waiting for them at the cave. Little do the friends know (well, maybe Flanagan knew; dogs are intuitive after all), that they are walking right into a trap!
Will they solve the mystery of The Headmaster’s Cave? And most importantly, will they survive to tell the tale?
This is an intense, action-packed adventure, great for both guy and girl readers! The two main characters, George and Katie, are a great pair, both powerful and intelligent in their own ways. I love how important George’s dog, Flan, was to the story mainly because I think that dogs are awesome! This was definitely a riveting story, but DISCLAIMER, this book has some intense material and scenes. This book should be reserved for intermediate – middle school-aged kids. They’ll love the action, mystery, and adventure! Get ready for a couple of good ghost stories.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Murder. Mystery. Intrigue. Betrayal. Bombings. Secrets. Unlikely partnerships. The world of Sunset Towers is about to be turned upside down. Upon moving into Sunset Towers in Westingtown, named for the paper company millionaire Sam Westing, the sixteen residents soon come to find that the incognito patron of Westingtown is not only still in town. He’s dead, and they are all heirs to his fortune. But to collect their winnings, they must first play his game. In his will that must be read at certain times throughout the game, Sam Westing divides his unlikely group of heirs into even more unlikely partnerships and gives each pair a set of clues that will lead to the name of his murderer, who, it seems, is a part of their group!
Families are turned against families, friends against friends. Enemies become pals. Opposites attract. Ideas are exchanged, and secrecy abounds! But there is more to this mystery than meets the eye. How are all of these people connected to Sam Westing in such a way that he would choose to make them heirs? How are they supposed to come up with an answer to the murderer when all they have are five incoherent words? Something about this mystery just doesn’t add up. So who’s going to solve it–the thirteen-year-old who plays the stock market, the court judge, the restauranteur, or the high school athlete? There can only be one true winner.
Enjoyed The Westing Game? Check out some more of Ellen Raskin’s picture books and novels:
-Nothing Ever Happens on My Block
-Silly Songs and Sad
-Ghosts in a Four Room Apartment
-And It Rained
-A & The, Or, William T.C. Baumgarten Comes to Town
-World’s Greatest Freak Show
-Moe Q. McClutch, He Smoked too Much
-Who, Sue Said, Said Whoo?
-Moose, Goose, & Little Nobody
-The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)
-Figgs & Phantoms
-The Tattooed Potato & Other Clues
The Secret Child by Marti Healy
On a journey from one Gypsy tribe to another, young Marika encounters tragedy. Her beloved baby brother who has been accompanying her to meet her future husband and new tribe falls horribly ill. Stopping in a small town in South Carolina, the experienced doctor is not able to save him. Marika keeps herself hidden from the doctor, his black assistant, and the woman to whose house Danny is taken. Unsure of what to do, Marika takes refuge in the woman’s barn, secretly doing chores for the owner while taking small bits of food for herself.
But eventually, she shows herself to the woman–Miss Maggie–and is treated with kindness and love, given a warm meal, a bath, and clean clothes. Marika finds a friend in Miss Maggie and the doctor’s black assistant, Joseph. Miss Maggie tells Marika of her life as a Quaker in the South, how they are accepting, kind people, and how they have church in her very house. She invites Marika to a service, but the young gypsy girl is not used to the customs of southern church services and the reserve in which they are practiced. She dresses in her most colorful garb, reddening her cheeks and lips, and letting her hair loose. The embarrassment she experiences upon setting foot into the church service, completely mismatched, sends her fleeing from her friends into the forest, led by Joseph, who takes her to the center of the forest at the Carolina Bay.
Soon enough, fairies make themselves known to her. She catches an ancient water fairy, Cian, whose respect for her spreads to the rest of the fairies. They share their names, their abilities, and their love for her. They keep her safe from her proposed husband, Jacko, a prince among gypsies but who is known as a cruel man. The fairies agree to protect her for a year, but at the end of the year, she must choose to live in the human world or join the fairy world. She cannot have the luxury of both.
In her year of protection, she notices the growing strife in the human world between slaves, slave owners, and people who are ready for slavery to end. She sees the horrors of slavery as she stays by Joseph’s side, then she comes home to the peace of the fairies. Marika has a very tough decision to make in a short amount of time. And she must never, ever forget her brother, the secret child.
Marti Healy has created a beautiful, enchanting, heart-wrenching story that mixes magic and lore with the pain and corruption of the pre-Civil War South. Her writing style is reminiscent of a classic, with rich language and imagery.
She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero by Loki Mulholland
This unique story explores the life of Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, an ordinary girl from the South who just did the right thing. The Civil Rights was an extremely tragic yet absolutely necessary piece of American history. Both black and white people made great strides in human rights and equality in our country. Many people seem to forget that African Americans were not the only people standing up for equality. White, Indian, Asian–people of every heritage were standing together. Joan Mulholland was one of these people.
Raised in Virginia, she grew up with segregation and harsh racism. She grew up being taught that mixing races were wrong. But despite all this chatter in her ear, Joan knew that this was wrong. She took a stand when she began college, joining peaceful movements, sit-ins, protests, and other demonstrations. She was kicked out of Duke University for her involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.
Despite the backlash and threats that she received, Joan never gave up on her belief that what she and the rest of her friends doing was the right thing. She was one of the first white students to attend a historically black college and join a black sorority. Her life was almost always at risk; she lost many friends and family; she lived in jail for several months of her life. All because she was doing the right thing. And the rest of the culture couldn’t accept this. She was an average hero.
She Stood for Freedom is extremely timely in its release. With all of the turmoil in our society right now, this book reminds us that we are all working together for a common goal. We’re all humans, and it’s high time that we remember that. Does our world need to be changed? Then let’s do it together, with our friends, one step at a time.
Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Five stories and one harmonica to connect them all. Three sisters, princesses, in fact, are abandoned in the forest by heir father the king, whose only desire is to have a son to inherit his throne. However, the kindly midwife cannot let these babies be devoured by forest animals, so she takes them to her sister, a witch, who agrees to take them on as servants and gives them numbers instead of names-Eins, Zwei, and Drei. For years, the sisters suffer under the witch, while the king finally revels in his firstborn son. However, after the king dies, the midwife tells the queen and her son the truth of the three sisters, and the new king orders her to retrieve his long, lost sisters.
However, the witch is not as willing to let them go as she was to accept them. They are useful and have the most unique, melodic voices. So instead of releasing them to the midwife, she casts a curse that will keep them trapped in the forest.
“A messenger brought you about.
One-and-the-same must bring you out.
You may not leave in earthly form.
Your spirits to a woodwind born.
You save a soul from death’s dark door,
Or here you’ll languish, evermore.”
Then one day, a young boy becomes lost in their forest and finds his way to the sisters’ clearing. Upon discovering that young Otto carries with him a harmonica (a woodwind instrument), they realize this is their opportunity for freedom. Breathing their unique voices into the harmonica, they guide Otto out of the forest with a mission to be their messenger and hand off this harmonica to the next, so that one day they might save a life and be free.
After playing its part in Otto’s life, it is passed on to a young boy in Trossinger, Germany who works in a harmonica factory during the rise of the Nazi Party, a dangerous place for a boy with a birthmark on his face. From there, it travels to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the Great Depression to an orphan boy named Mike with amazing musical talent and a fierce desire to protect his little brother. From Philly, it goes-trans continental to Fresno, California where a young Mexican girl discovers her love of music in war-torn America. Her brother is fighting in Europe while she’s fighting to keep her family from falling apart. The rest of the story is up to you to read about.
I saw this quote that I think perfectly sums up my experience with Echo: “Some books you read. Some books you enjoy. But some books just swallow you up, heart and soul.” Echo completely swallowed me. It gripped my heartstrings and had me completely mesmerized by this unique, intricate book, linking interconnected stories with an instrument that most people overlook. I can’t commend or recommend this book enough. It has stolen my heart.
Wonder by J. R. Palacio
August Pullman is a normal kid. He’s very smart and funny. He’s kind and loves deeply. There’s just one problem, one thing hindering him in life—his face. At birth, he suffered from a rare condition that left his facial features rather deformed. People are always surprised when they see August for the first time. They either warm up to him or cannot get past the surface, which is a shame.
But life hasn’t been easy for August. After countless surgeries, hundreds of people freaking out at his face, and his best friend moving away, he is completely content to play at home with this sister Via and their dog Daisy. But like everyone else, August has to learn to face the rest of the world. What does this mean? School. Not homeschooling, like he’s done for years with his mom, but a real school with real, inconsiderate kids.
At first, August is completely against the idea. It’s horrifying, honestly, But as his parents argue more, after meets a few kids, and has a talk with the school’s dean, he grows more comfortable with the idea and is ready to start, to face all the challenges that come with…dun dun duhhhh…middle school. Middle school is horrible for any kid, let alone one who has something that makes him stand out and not necessarily in a good way.
And just as expected middle school is hard for August. Kids are mean, and this time they’re intentional about it. It’s not the kind of mean that little kids commit without knowing what they’re doing. These pre-teens know what they’re doing when they are pretending that August has the plague, and if you touch him, you have to wash your hands immediately or you’ll catch it too. They call him names, and when his friend Jack sticks up for him, the rest of the guys avoid both of them, leaving mean notes in their lockers.
But August overcomes every challenge thrown at him with his head held high and the kindness of a thousand kids. His good heart ends up winning people over, and by the end of the year, school isn’t something that August dreads. It’s something to look forward to—to be kinder than is necessary.
Middle school is hard for everyone—kids are trying to figure out who they are, who their friends are, what they like. Popularity is starting to be really important. And most importantly, how you look is crucial. So place this wonderful kid, whose face frightens a lot of people, into this lion’s den, and it’s a recipe for disaster. But Palacio has created an amazing character that you can’t help but fall in love with. And the novel is so unique in its structure. We don’t just hear from August, but also from the kids that influence him: Via, Justin, Jack, and Miranda. We all see how they feel about him and how he has influenced them.
The message that Mr. Tushman, the principal, preached at the fifth-grade graduation really touched me. He read this quote from J.M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird: “Shall we make a new rule of life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?” If half the people reading this abide by this new rule, the world will be a so much better place.
As parents, we want/need quality books with extension activities to help our young ones unplug and create memories. Pulling books from shelves, and stories from pages is also an important act that will the habit of being life-long readers. Quality books with companion book extension activities are not only working to create special family time, but it also allows kids to solve the world’s problems without major consequences. A Year in the Secret Garden is just such a book.
This delightful children’s book is co-written by Marilyn Scott-Waters and Valarie Budyar and it offers original month-by-month activities that allow readers to delve deeper into the classic children’s tale, The Secret Garden.
Within the 120 pages (with 150 original color illustrations and 48 activities)families will find many activities inspired by The Secret Garden that encourage them to step away from technology and enjoy getting hands and feet into the black earth of a family garden. This book will make a great gift and be the catalyst for many hours of family growth, learning, and FUN!
Grab your copy ASAP and “meet me in the garden!” More details HERE!Connect with Audrey Press on Social Media