When You Trap a Tiger

by Tae Keller
First sentence: “I can turn invisible.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are a few heavy subjects, like a loss of a parent. It would be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore if it hadn’t won the Newbery. As such, it’s in the Newbery section of the bookstore.

Lily has always been the quiet one in her family. It’s her older sister, Sam, that is loud and opinionated and always in trouble with their mom. But when their halmoni (their grandma) gets sick and the sisters and their mom move in with her to help, things change. Lily is convinced — by a magical tiger — that her halmoni stole something from the tigers god and if Lily just gave it back, her halmoni would get better.

This is such a lovely little book. A testament to the power of stories and passing those stories on. And not just book stories, but the stories of family, of Home (whether it be spiritual or ancestral). There are no stories that shouldn’t be told; even the sad ones have merit. It’s also a sweet book about family connection, surviving loss, and being strong and brave and what that means. Plus, it’s incredibly well-written and feels just perfect; not a single word or scene that’s out of place.

Definitely earned that Newbery it won. Excellent.

Fridays with the Wizards

fridaysby Jessica Day George
First sentence: “It was good to be home.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Tuesdays at the Castle, Wednesdays in the Tower, Thursdays with the Crown
Content: These books are so great for those middle readers who don’t like super long books, but want action-packed stories. Not too many difficult words, and George keeps them short and sweet. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Now that Castle Glower is whole again and Wizard Arkwright is captured, Celie figures her work is done and she can just go back to normal. Except that normal isn’t, well, normal anymore. Lilah and Lulath are engaged (yay!) and so there are preparations to go to Grath and meet Lulath’s family. The king decides that a ship really needs to be built. And people keep bonding with all the baby griffins, though they soon learn that it’s the griffins who choose, not the people.

Celie isn’t happy with all these changes, but she can deal. Until they discover that Wizard Arkower has escaped his prison and is creeping around the secret passageways of the Castle. Celie’s the one who knows the Castle best, and so it falls on her to figure a way to capture the wizard. If she can.

This series is such a delight. I love that the family is a good one, that Celie has challenges that are outside of her family and that her family is generally supportive of her as a person. It’s wonderfully refreshing. I also enjoy that these books build on each other while offering an individual adventure that actually comes to a stopping point. No real cliffhangers, which is nice. And that she writes at a kids’ level without talking down to them. It really is a fun series. I’ll definitely be sad when it ends.

As a bonus, I got to host her here for school visits and a store event a couple weeks ago. She’s just as delightful as her books!


Wednesdays in the Tower

by Jessica Day George

ages: 9+
First sentence: “There are a lot of things that can hatch out of an egg.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Tuesdays at the Castle
Our fair heroine Celie has adjusted back to regular life after the events of the last summer, when she was forced to defend her castle against evil forces. She’s almost finished her almanac of the castle, which is something that makes her feel extremely proud. And she thinks she’s pretty much figured out all the castle secrets. Then, one Wednesday — a day when the Castle isn’t supposed to change — the Castle deposits a huge egg in a tower off of Celie’s room. And in the egg? A baby griffin.
That starts a chain of events that leads Celie (and her family) into a discovery of the true nature of the Castle. 
This is one of the most delightful follow ups to one of the most delightful books. I still adore Celie and her family (it’s not often you get a good family in a kids’ book). And I love how George managed to work both with the good family and around it. I thoroughly enjoy Celie as a heroine, as well, mostly because she’s not out kicking butt or saving the world, but rather just solving problems and defending the things that mean the most to her. 
And the griffin is pretty dang cute, too. 
It does end on a wee bit of a cliff hanger, which makes me wonder two things: 1) where the story will go next, and 2) if the title will be Thursdays in/at something….
I’m looking forward to it. 

Tuesdays at the Castle

by Jessica Day George
ages: 9+
First sentence: “Whenever Castle Glower became bored, it would grow a new room or two.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!

Eleven-year-old Princess Cecilia — Celie to her family and friends — loves living in Castle Glower. She’s made it her job to know all the nooks and crannies and shortcuts, from the long-established ones, to the ones that crop up periodically. See, Castle Glower is definitely magical, and may be alive: it has opinions about the residents there (the state of your rooms is a definite indicator of its opinion of you), and chooses the person who would be best to rule the castle. Everything is grand at Castle Glower.

That is, until the King and Queen leave to pick up their oldest son from the Wizard College, leaving Celie and her two older siblings —  heir apparent Rolf, and sister Leliah — in the care of the castle. Unfortunately, the royals were attacked, and presumed dead. Suddenly, the council and neighboring countries are all over the Castle, supposedly “helping” Rolf take the throne. But the castle hasn’t changed the rooms; perhaps their parents aren’t dead after all? It’s a lot to take in, and that’s not even mentioning the creepy Vhervhish prince that is overstepping his boundaries. It’s up to Celie — and the castle — to stop what may have been a tragedy from becoming a calamity.

It’s a cute and clever little book; I think the premise is the strongest part of the book, though I really liked Celie as a character. Sure, the plot was a bit rushed, and I thought that maybe things wrapped up too tidily, especially since this is being hailed as a “start of a series.” But then, I’m not the target audience, and I’m sure that younger readers and fantasy lovers will really enjoy this one. (I’m planning on reading it to A as soon as we get done with our current reading.)