A Comb of Wishes by Lisa Stringfellow

A Comb of Wishes

Information

Goodreads: A Comb of Wishes
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2022

Summary

Kela is mourning the death of her mother when she discovers a box holding a beautiful comb. The comb, it turns out, belongs to a sea woman–and she would do just about anything to get it back. So she offers Kela a trade: a wish for the comb. But wishes never turn out quite the way one thinks….

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Review

A Comb of Wishes invites readers on a magical story rich in the atmosphere, history, and folklore of the Caribbean. Kela is trying to deal with the loss of her mother, mostly by ignoring her father and her best friend Lissy. But she still wanders the beach looking for sea glass, trying to complete the collection she and her mom started. Instead she finds an ancient comb that belongs to one of the sea folk–and she agrees to give it back in exchange for the return of her mother. When Kela breaks the bargain, however, the mermaid threatens revenge. Fast-paced action; plenty of fascinating information about the beaches of St. Rita; and, of course, mermaids mean this book will likely appeal to tween readers, even though I found myself a bit perplexed by some of the plot points.

For me, the strongest part of the book is the information given about St. Rita and the ecological concerns Kela and her father feel for their home. The story overflows with evident love for St. Rita, as Kela explains the different rules that guide her in searching the beaches for treasure. For instance, she does not collect shells because that would negatively impact the environment, but she can collect sea glass (which comes from glass products weathered by the ocean). She also explains the different laws about finding treasures in different parts St. Rita, how to report any finds, and so forth. All of this really made Kela’s home come alive, while showing just how important it is to her to keep her home safe and beautiful.

The folklore in A Comb of Wishes is also fascinating. I love books where the fantastic is also shown to be dangerous, so I loved the allure Kela and her mother felt for the sea folk, while they also acknowledged that the sea folk are dangerous. Kela, of course, discovers this firsthand when she makes and breaks a bargain with a mermaid named Ophidia, who then stalks Kela in an attempt to scare her to return her comb. The dual aspects of the sea folk, however, ultimately got a bit confusing, and, for me, the ending is where the book fell apart. The book tries a bit too hard to humanize the sea folk and make them sympathetic, which ultimately both makes them seem less magical.

[Major spoilers about the ending in this paragraph!] A major part of the book is the lore that sea folk must steal a human soul in order to gain immortality, and readers learn that Ophidia steals the soul of a human who betrayed her. One assumes, naturally, that having one’s soul stolen is very, very bad–Ophidia has resisted the impulse before out of pity and only does it as a vengeful punishment. Yet, by the end of the book, Kela and her mother have discovered that Ophidia has stolen the soul of one of their ancestors and that it’s in the comb. One might assume that they would want to keep the comb to try to release their ancestor’s soul, or…something. Instead, they now feel a kinship with Ophidia because she has a family member’s soul, and they are all respectful of each other and even friends! Sorry, what? Did I miss something? Everyone is now supposed to like the scary mermaid who steals souls and tried to kill a child for an entire book?? I know mermaids are cool right now, but I thought the point of this book is that non-human magic folk are unknowable and dangerous. Not your awesome new BFF. The ending effectively undoes most of the book, turning this from a scary folkloric book into a child-friendly, “Mermaids are fun and sparkly!” book, and I do not really know why. [End spoilers!]

I realize, however, that my desire for logic in books is not always shared, and that tween readers are likely to overlook any contradictions in the plot. For those who do not mind some inconsistency in worldbuilding and messaging, A Comb of Wishes will prove an engrossing read.

3 Stars

Hummingbird by Natalie Lloyd

Hummingbird

Information

GoodreadsHummingbird
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Twelve-year-old Olive no longer wants to be known just for being “fragile” since she has osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease.  So she convinces her parents to let her attend the local public school.  But change is in the air, and the town cannot stop talking about the hummingbird–said to be able to grant the deepest wish of one’s heart.  Olive desperately wants to find the hummingbird and give herself the future she dreams of.   But she is not the only one searching.

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Review

Hummingbird brings back Natalie Lloyd’s heart, humor, and signature magical realism–all the best parts of her critically acclaimed debut novel, A Snicker of Magic.  Once again she invites readers into a world where kindness matters most, differences are celebrated, and all are welcomed.  Reading Hummingbird will make readers wish they could move to Olive’s town, not just because it is magic, but because it is full of warmth and joy.

Admittedly, I initially had some doubts about Hummingbird.  Though I adore A Snicker of Magic, Lloyd’s subsequent books never quite matched it.  Worse, however, Hummingbird seemed determined to recapture the success of Snicker by becoming Snicker.  Olive reads very much like Felicity Pickle with her over-the-top enthusiasm for life and inherent belief in the goodness of just about everyone.  She might have more of a commitment to sparkles than Felicity, but the personality really seemed the same. I was worried Hummingbird might be a repeat, and not something special.  I was wrong.

Hummingbird celebrates all the joys and triumphs of life–alongside the bitter parts–with Lloyd’s trademark sympathy.  I fell in love at once with Olive–her enthusiasm for glitter, her love of Dolly Parton, her desire to find a best friend forever.  I desperately longed for her to find peace and to commit to the joy that she already overflowed with.  And all the supporting characters are just as endearing, from her stepbrother (awkward but clearly kind) to her dad (quirky, but owning it) to all her amazing classmates.  Olive’s world is full of magic, but it is the magic of friendship and family that stands out more than any wish a hummingbird could grant.

Fans of fantasy, magical realism, and contemporary will all find something to love and celebrate in Natalie Lloyd’s new book. I highly recommend it!

4 stars

The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko

Unicorn Quest cover

Information

Goodreads: The Unicorn Quest
Series: The Unicorn Quest #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Little Free Library
Published: 2018

Official Summary

Claire Martinson still worries about her older sister Sophie, who battled a mysterious illness last year. But things are back to normal as they move into Windermere Manor… until the sisters climb a strange ladder in a fireplace and enter the magical land of Arden.

There, they find a world in turmoil. The four guilds of magic no longer trust each other. The beloved unicorns have gone, and terrible wraiths roam freely. Scared, the girls return home. But when Sophie vanishes, it will take all of Claire’s courage to climb back up the ladder, find her sister, and uncover the unicorns’ greatest secret.

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Review

I’ve had The Unicorn Quest on my TBR list for years, and Krysta’s positive review and the rave reviews on Goodreads had me convinced I would love this. After all, it’s a story about sisters in a fantasy world with unicorns! (Well, there used to be unicorns.) Unfortunately, poor pacing and writing let me down, and I didn’t love this nearly as much as I’d hoped.

This is likely a case where younger readers will not mind the issues that I mind, but I thought the book was really choppily written. It’s one of those novels where something happens and as soon as it’s resolved, some other problem pops up. Literally in the next sentence. Imagine a scene (I’m making this up), where a character is drowning, and as soon as someone saves her a sea monster pops up, as a soon as the sea monster is defeated, the boat falls apart. And it goes on. I could have used a little more space in between each problem the protagonists faced.

I also thought the writing was underwhelming, a bit cliché and awkward at times. Again, I don’t think actual ten year olds will care.

I liked the sister relationship, but this is yet another book where the sisters barely interact with each other during the course of the novel, and readers have to assume a lot about their relationship from what the protagonist says about it while the other sister is off-page somewhere.

So, no, I won’t be reading the rest of the series, but it seems to be doing well, so I’m probably an outlier here.

Briana

I’m Not Sure I Get the Dork Diaries

The Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renée Russell, sometimes referred to as “Diary of a Wimpy Kid for girls,” is an incredibly popular set of stories that follow the middle school adventures of Nikki Maxwell. The diary-like format, filled with comics and doodles, really seems to appeal to tween readers and, having seen so many squeal about the books over the years, I finally decided to read the first book, Tales From a Not-So-Fabulous Life, to see what the hype is about. Reader, I disliked the book as much as I suspected I would.

I assumed I would dislike the books based on two factors. First, I could not stand Diary of a Wimpy Kid because I found Greg Heffley so mean and obnoxious, and I could not imagine that reading a similar book series would appeal to me. Secondly, everything I saw about the Dork Diaries seemed to indicate that the protagonist was some sort of appearance/popularity obsessed mean girl wannabe–and I really do not enjoy reading about characters that self-absorbed. When I saw parents at the library letting a six-year-old read the series (I guess because it has pictures!), I was baffled. Nikki hardly seemed like the kind of kind, caring, strong role model most parents of younger kids look for. But I had not yet read the books themselves, just the summaries. Perhaps I was missing something.

Alas, however, reading Tales From a Not-So-Fabulous Life was as excruciating as I had imagined. I raced through the book, desperately hoping that I would finish soon and the agony would end. I simply could not stand Nikki, or feel at all invested in her problems, even though I recognize that she has problems meant to be relatable, like feeling embarrassed by her parents or wanting to be popular at school. The trouble is, she is so self-absorbed, she often ends up being as nasty as the other characters she criticizes.

Regrettably, Nikki undergoes zero character development in this book; she does not learn anything and she does not grow into a kinder person. She opens the book being ungrateful that her parents did not give her the cell phone she wanted and that she got a diary instead. She sounds like a whiny toddler. She then spends the rest of the book feeling sorry for herself because she does not think she is as pretty and popular as her school’s resident mean girls. She is mean to her little sister, and scares her on purpose by making her afraid of the Tooth Fairy. She is ungrateful for her friends, because they are not cool enough, in her mind, even though they generally support her (minus the tattoo incident). She makes fun of her friends’ love of reading. She even uses the money for her dad’s Father’s Day gift to buy herself a present instead. She complains about everything and seems happy for nothing.

Yes, middle school is hard and everyone wants to fit in! But Nikki does not seem to realize that having a loving family and friends who care for her might be something to cherish, even if her clothes are not trendy. Other books have managed to have characters who feel out of place, envious, and sad, and still be empathetic. Nikki just seems like another version of the school’s mean girls, except in less expensive shoes. I genuinely could not understand how she could dislike Mackenzie and her friends so much, when Nikki behaves the same way they do. I eagerly await the spin-off series where Mackenzie casts Nikki as the bully! Frankly, even though I do not think all stories for children need to have a moral, I would be highly reluctant to give this series to a child, lest they think that Nikki’s actions are appropriate.

One would think that a series entitled The Dork Diaries would have a character more relatable to self-described dorks. A character who has her own interests and friends. Who maybe wishes she could be prettier or more popular, who might lack some self-confidence, but who still realizes that she has some good things going for her. That she’s lucky to be able to attend a prestigious middle school and use that privilege to chase her dreams. Who has bigger plans than one-upping the popular Mackenzie. Who finds some fulfillment in her love of art. How I wish this were true! That would seem more relatable to me than a protagonist who is so shallow she seems like a caricature of what people think tween girls are like.

Perhaps it could be said that I simply do not understand the appeal because I am an adult. But I know I was nothing like Nikki as a tween, and do not think I would have found her relatable or pleasant even at the time. I also know that many, many contemporary middle grade novels depict characters who feel like dorky outsiders at school–but those characters still manage to be kind to others and not completely selfish and whiny. I would hate to think that Nikki is supposed to be a depiction of how people think tween girls act–self-absorbed; overly dramatic; and obsessed with fashion, celebrities, and phones with no regard for friends or family. Girls are so much more than that! Where are Nikki’s hopes and dreams? Her ambitions? Her passions and loves? Perhaps if she had more of those, she would feel more real and less like a mockery.

Ride On by Faith Erin Hicks

Ride On

Information

GoodreadsRide On
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Victoria loves riding, but no longer wants the pressure or expense of competing. Her best friend Taylor, however, cannot understand this, leading the two to a dramatic fight. Victoria decides to start over at a new stable, where she will not make the mistake of trying to make new friends. But soon she realizes that everyone needs someone in their corner.

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Review

Ride On is, of course, the perfect book to recommend to any tween or young tween obsessed with horses. It is also, however, a moving contemporary story about changing priorities and friendships, one that will delight fans of graphic novels such as Smile, Twins, and Real Friends. Faith Erin Hicks chronicles the struggles of growing up and growing away from old friends with real insight and sympathy, creating a story sure to resonate with any reader who has ever felt like they did not quite belong.

Ride On acknowledges from the start that the world of riding, while amazing, is also one that can be full of pressure and one that may prove inaccessible to those without the money. While it is heartbreaking to watch Victoria’s friend Taylor not understand how Victoria might want to enjoy riding for the sake of riding, instead of feeling the need to compete, it somehow feels worse to watch Taylor refuse to acknowledge Victoria’s financial worries. Taylor’s dreams of winning ribbons is one thing; her refusal to admit that she can only do this because her parents are wealthy is amazingly obtuse. I just wanted her, for one moment, to validate Victoria’s feelings. But if you are looking for an easy story about easily mended friendships, this is not it.

Fortunately, however, Ride On does hold out hope to readers. Although Victoria’s initial instinct is to protect herself from any future harm by refusing all new friendship, that, of course, cannot last long. Everyone needs a friend, or someone to support them, and Victoria quickly finds people who accept her for who she is. Watching the riders at her new stable reach out, validate her feelings, and offer to support her only in the ways she is comfortable with, is truly heartwarming. But there are plenty of laughs and lighthearted moments, too!

I always love a good middle grade graphic novel focused on friendships, and Ride On does not disappoint. If there was anything I wanted, it was for the story to be longer! It is simply too endearing for it to end so soon!

4 stars

Wingbearer by Marjorie M. Liu

Wingbearer

Information

GoodreadsWingbearer
Series: Wingbearer #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2022

Summary

Zuli was raised in the Great Tree by mystical birds who oversee the reincarnation of the birds from across the world. But one day, the spirits of the birds stop travelling to the Tree to be reborn. Determined to find the cause, Zuli, along with her guardian owl Frowly, leaves the Tree for the first time. Her quest will lead her to many strange places. But her greatest adventure might be discovering her own past.

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Review

Wingbearer invites readers on a magical adventure full of danger and mystery. While the plotline does not feel entirely original, and the elements of the quest will be familiar to any lovers of history, tween readers likely will not mind. The fast-paced action and vibrant illustrations will likely be enough to make the target audience fall in love with the courageous protagonist and her world.

Reviewing books meant for younger audiences often proves a struggle. While I firmly believe that a good story is a good story, no matter whom it was written for, I also recognize that I tend to be more critical of books than many of the children I know. I have seen the quest story play out many, many times and it is much easier for me to predict what will happen next, and much harder to impress me. Thus, while I think Wingbearer is a solid story, and an entertaining one, I do not feel like it rises to greatness; it just seems so standard. Yet, I also know I would not hesitate to recommend it to any tweens who love fantasy graphic novels.

I also struggled a bit with the artwork. On the one hand, I really loved it. The colors are vibrant, the worlds beautifully drawn, and the creatures magnificent. The demon monster is truly terrifying, and the dragon breathtaking. On the other hand, the illustrations have some sort of quality about them that makes them feel a bit like computer animations to me. I think I was hoping for something that felt a little more organic or intimate. I enjoyed the illustrations, but again, I do not know if I really connected to them in a way that made me think, “Wow!”

So should you pick this up? If you love middle grade graphic novels, especially fantasy ones, yes. It is worth the read! The characters are lovable, the plot engaging, and the worlds magical. I was drawn in by the mystery and am willing to read the sequel. Wingbearer might not have blown me away, but not every book needs to. It is still a fun read!

4 stars

The Patron Thief of Bread by Lindsay Eagar

The Patron Thief of Bread Book Cover

Information

GoodreadsThe Patron Thief of Bread
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: May 2022

Summary

Eight-year-old Duck was fished by the river as a baby. Now she forms part of the Crowns, a crew of pickpockets who move from town to town. But their leader Gnat has a new plan. They will settle in Odierne and install Duck as a fake apprentice to a baker. From the bakery, she can more easily pass bread and money to the Crowns. But soon Duck starts to care for Griselde, and to wonder where she really belongs. Interspersed periodically with chapters told from the perspective of a gargoyle, made to watch and protect.

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Review

I will be among the first to admit it. I do not understand the hype surrounding The Patron Thief of Bread. Books about crews of child thieves who earn their living as pickpockets are plentiful enough, as is the idea that growing up often means moving on–to an honest day’s work and relationships that are built on more than usefulness. The Patron Thief of Bread tries to stand out by offering occasional chapters told from the perspective of a gargoyle rather than the orphan thief Duck. But these seem out of place and unnecessary. On the whole, The Patron Thief of Bread is a solid book, one I enjoyed–but one that seems not only uninspired but also a bit too long and too reflective for its target audience. I see this book as a potential award winner, one beloved by adults, but I have trouble imagining a child I would recommend it to.

I have read enough children’s books that the concept of a crew of child pickpockets needs a little something more to seem exciting to me. It is this feeling that I imagine must form the basis of including chapters from the perspective of a gargoyle. Duck’s chapters, you see, the one’s following an orphan thief selected to masquerade as a baker’s apprentice so she can more easily steal bigger change, are interrupted periodically by those of the gargoyle. Duck’s chapters focus on the concept of family and what it means to belong–she must decide if her crew are still her family, or if they are only using her as a tool. Or if Griselde the baker could be her family, too. The gargoyle’s chapters focus mainly on his feelings of impotence being attached to an incomplete cathedral that the ravages of time have worn down. Unable to protect–with nothing to protect–he rages at everything and spends his time alternately mocking the other gargoyles or substituting lewd lyrics to the hymns the nuns sing below. What the gargoyle and his feelings of inadequacy have to do with Duck and her feelings about family is not really clear. It just seems like they are there to be interesting, to be unique. “What other book has chapters from the point of view of a gargoyle?” one might say, impressively. In short, the gargoyle chapters seem out of place and add little to the book or its overall themes.

The gargoyle chapters also add length to a book that is arguably already a bit too long, coming in at 448 pages. Plenty of children adore long books, yes, but the pacing of this one is slow and the themes are redundant. Duck spends most of the book reflecting on whether she still belongs in the crew, or if they are just using her to get food, while also acting like she is an outsider who left them and no longer belongs. Like most problems, Duck’s could be solved by talking them out with her master the baker Griselde, who loves Duck like her own child and refuses to see any wrong in her. But, of course, that would make less of a story, so we get hundreds of pages of Duck worrying instead, with the climatic scenes coming in only when about 80% of the story has been told. The pacing feels off–too slow and then too fast, with everything needing to go wrong and then get fixed in the final pages.

In the end, I really see this as the type of book adults in particular would enjoy. It’s just so unique with its gargoyle chapters and so sweet and deep with its look at the definition of family, right? I myself enjoyed the book, though I cannot say I want to rave about it. It is a solid story, one with interesting characters and an interesting premise. I just do not see it doing anything particularly new or thought-provoking. And I really am interested if this is a book tweens would enjoy, or if it the grown-ups who see all the meaning in it.

3 Stars

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine by Jo Rioux

Cat's Cradle

Information

Goodreads: Cat’s Cradle
Series: Cat’s Cradle #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2012, 2022

Summary

Suri is a street orphan who longs to be a monster hunter. What luck then that a heartless man drives up one day with a monster inside his wagon! This is the start of an adventure that just might take Suri to the place where all monsters cross to enter her country.

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Review

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine seems just the type of middle grade fantasy to appeal to a large audience, so I am unsure why the book, first published in 2012, apparently was never followed by the intended sequels. The book opens with the orphan Suri who lives in a traveling caravan and tells visitors tales of monsters–for a fee. Her true longing, however, is to be a monster hunter. And her opportunity comes when a strange man joins the caravan with one in his wagon. This, along with a chance encounter with a family of monsters who can take on the forms of humans, begins Suri’s adventures. Adventures that are sadly cut short when the book abruptly ends.

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine is one of those books that really just exists to set the stage for the following books. Readers receive an introduction to our spunky heroine Suri, learn that she lives in a country where monsters invade from across the mountains, and watch Suri fall afoul of a family of monsters and set herself up for a future encounter with the prince–who is a bit of a monster hunter himself. Characters are hastily drawn and the worldbuilding is sketchy. But none of that is supposed to matter, as long as readers get the gist of it. The true adventure will start later, when the mystery of the golden twine is revealed.

Unfortunately, however, as of my reading, book two of the series was never published. I tried to ascertain if the republishing of book one is meant to herald a new attempt to get readers for the series and justify publishing the rest of the series. But I could find no mention of book two online. So, while the book is just the type of thing I would want to recommend to tween lovers of fantasy, I feel awkward doing so as long as it seems readers will not be able to finish the story. Hopefully, things will change and we will receive news of book two. If you have any, feel free to share in the comments!

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine is a story I know I would have loved as a tween, and I was excited to enter its world of magic and adventure. I just wish I knew if there will be more magic in the future.

3 Stars

The Mythics #1: Marina and the Kraken by Lauren Magaziner (ARC Review)

Marina and the Kraken by Lauren Magazine cover

Information

Goodreads: Marina and the Kraken
Series: The Mythics #1
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Netgalley for review
Publication Date: September 6, 2022

Illustrated by Mirelle Ortega

Official Summary

It’s Pairing Day in Terrafamiliar! Marina has been waiting for this moment—anxiously—for as long as she can remember. Because today’s the day she gets to bond with her animal familiar for life, like every other ten-year-old in the land.

Except after the ceremony ends, Marina doesn’t have one. And she’s not alone . . . four other girls also didn’t get their animal companions. The leaders of Terrafamiliar realize something special is happening: Marina and the other four girls—Kit, Ember, Pippa, and Hailey—are called Mythics

In times of unrest, the Mythics must earn their Mythies—mythical beasts—in quests of courage. But danger lurks everywhere as there are others seeking this mysterious power. And only the Mythics can save Terrafamiliar! 

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Review

Marina and the Kraken is an adventure-filled romp that takes readers on a journey with the titular Marina and her new friends to find their (not!) mythical animal familiars, which they need to do in order to save the world! (They’re just not sure from what yet.) The story is a mix of mishaps and bravery and surprises and fun that will have young readers eagerly turning the pages and daydreaming about what their own animal familiar would be.

The book definitely has a lot of commercial appeal, with its adorable illustrations by Mirelle Ortega, its world where everyone gets paired with a familiar on their tenth birthday, and its focus on five different girls who will each get their own book in the series, so look for for this to be a new obsession for lower middle grade readers.

As an adult reader, I saw places in the narrative where I didn’t think the logistics really worked, but this will likely not be an issue for the actual target audience (or other adult readers, based on my past experience being the only person concerned with logic in books). Even so, the story is engaging, and Magaziner keeps it grounded with protagonist Marina, who is bright also rather anxious and not quite gung-ho to go on adventures and become a hero. So much could go wrong! She, and the readers, must balance worry and bravery as she journeys to find her Mythie familiar and keep her friends safe.

This is certainly a series to keep your eye on, especially if you are a buyer of lower middle grade. Cure, heartwarming, full of jokes and a bit of danger, it has a bit of everything to draw in young readers.

Briana
4 stars

How I Judge and Review Books for Children (Discussion)

We love middle grade books here at Pages Unbound. Krysta and I both think novels in this age category are immensely creative and have a lot of range; they can be fun and quirky, but they can also address difficult issues ranging from bullying to parental drug use to the patriarchy. This category addresses issues with thought and care, but often isn’t as dark as YA or adult, and it also seems a bit less susceptible to authors writing to trends. For all my love of middle grade, however, I sometimes struggle with the balance of looking at the books as a adult vs. looking at them as a child (the actual target audience) might.

To that end, my reviews of middle grade books often lay out my struggle explicitly. I will say that I thought a point was underdeveloped or that part of the book didn’t make sense to me, and then I evaluate whether I think I as a child would have noticed or cared, or whether children in general would notice or care. Most of the time, I conclude the target audience would not see the same flaws I do as an adult, and it’s because I know from rereading books I loved as a child that I see them differently now that I’m older.

I was a voracious reader when I was young, and there are a lot of books I have picked up again and again. Some have withstood the test of time for me, while others have not. For instance, Anne of Green Gables was and still is one of my very, very favorite books. I have read it dozens of times, and I am struck by how good it is every time I read it. On the other hand, The Chronicles of Narnia have not held up for me (sorry for the sacrilege, C. S. Lewis fans). I reread the whole series (minus The Last Battle, which I could never really get into) many times as a child. I liked to play and pretend I was in Narnia. I watched the movies. I was obsessed. But when I reread The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a adult, the book felt very sparse! So much about the book and the world of Narnia was things I had imagined into it as a child, and I didn’t see those same things when I grew up. It’s a book I would have given 5 stars as ten year old but would likely give 3 if I’d first read it when I was older.

The Narnia example makes me particularly sensitive to middle grade books that seem “underdeveloped” to me as an adult, however. This always strikes me as a flaw, but I know with certainty I would not have cared as a child. I would have taken the characters and the world the author sketched out and thought and daydreamed and made them my own. I would not have thought the book was lacking.

Yet there are flaws I do think I would have seen as a child. For instance, I recently read a book where the characters are in a room that’s on fire. They manage to escape through a trap door, and then breathe a sigh of relief they are safe. This makes NO SENSE! If one room in a building is on fire, then the whole building is essentially on fire, and you need to leave the building, not just the room! Kids know this. They do fire drills and have presentations on fire safety in schools. Kids would probably be the first to leave a public space if a fire alarm when off somewhere, while the adults milled about wondering if there were really a fire and they really had to exit. So this is a plot point I think would strike both adult and child readers as illogical.

I don’t think there’s really a “perfect” way for me to judge books that are clearly targeted at readers much younger than I am (and I don’t even want to get into rating the book), but I do my best to think about not only what my reaction is now, but also what my reaction likely would have been as a child.

What do you think? How do you approach judging middle grade books (Or young adult or picture books?)

Briana