MG – Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl

Kagawa, Julie. Shinji Takahashi and the Mark of the Coatl. Disney-Hyperion, 2022. 978-1-368-06819-2. Grades 4-7.

Shinji, a 13-year-old orphan, is being raised by his globe-trotting Aunt Yui, who is constantly searching for unique artisan products for her store, Lost River Outfitters. While aimlessly wandering a marketplace in a corner of Africa along the Zambezi River, he comes across an unusual, snake-like statue that calls to him. Literally. Shinji no sooner takes possession of the Coatl idol when trouble starts. Armed men attempt to force the Mezoamerican figurine from Shinji, eventually kidnapping the boy and taking him to the headquarters of the Hightower Corporation. There, Shinji makes an ally in Lucy, a computer prodigy his own age and they begin to unravel the mystery of the Coatl, which has turned into a tattoo on Shinji’s arm. They plot their escape and form an alliance with the mysterious Society of Adventurers and Explorers to complete the mission of the Coatl before it drains Shinji’s life away. This action-packed middle grade adventure holds its own in the increasingly crowded field of mythology-based series. Shinji is a relatable character, who wise-cracks at the wrong time and frequently allows his frustration to get the better of him. Lucy provides a cool foil to Shinji, with secrets of her own that propel the story forward. Kagawa deftly spreads suspicion among all the adults, leaving Shinji and the reader not sure who to trust, keeping up the suspense until the end of the book. While the story does have a Disney tie-in, it is minimally invasive. The characters are widely diverse, with Shinji being Asian; Lucy white; and the members of the Society of Adventurers and Explorers cueing as Black, Indian and white, and include a wheelchair Explorer who flies drones.

THOUGHTS: If you don’t object to the minor Disney plug woven into the story, this is a solid choice for a magic-based action/adventure story. Not as heavily immersed in mythology as Percy Jackson, it should entertain readers just looking for a fun story that is hard to put down. Sequels would seem to be forthcoming.

Fantasy (Mythology)          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – The Traitor’s Blade

Sands, Kevin. The Traitor’s Blade. (The Blackthorn Key, 5.) Aladdin, 2021. 380 p. 978-1-5344-8456-6. $18.99 Grades 5-9.  

In book 5 of this popular series, Christopher Rowe and his friends Tom and Sally continue unraveling codes and threats, this time against Christopher and King Charles II, in 1666 London. Christopher, Tom, and Sally have only just returned from Paris, when Christopher stops in at Blackthorn’s now-dusty shop to find a threatening letter with a code leading to more information. While there, his friend Simon arrives at the door–with a knife in his back. Miraculously, Simon lives, but the similarity of his death to the recent deaths of two of the king’s servants leads Christopher to be apprenticed to the King’s spymaster. Because Christopher, Tom, and Sally had saved the life of the king’s sister Minette, King Charles extends his grateful generosity to the trio by giving each of them an annual stipend, as well as an individual gift. For Christopher, it is his apprenticeship. For Sally, it is designation as the king’s ward. And for Tom, it is a secret that he keeps from Christopher, a secret which makes him sad. Meanwhile, Simon shares news that Remi, believed to be The Raven, is dead.  Christopher should feel relieved, but questions still abound, and he is caught up in following codes in the letters from the Templars. The closer he gets, the more dangerous the group becomes, and the more convoluted the codes and suppositions. Christopher’s new master cautions him against jumping to conclusions, but Christopher recognizes he’s done exactly that. The novel ends with hand-to-hand combat, a frightening discovery, and a selfless decision by Tom that will make the reader believe in the power of friendship.

THOUGHTS: This is a wonderful continuation of the series that Sands promises has “one more to go.”  Purchase the entire series for grades 5-9; it has proven popular with reviewers and readers.

Historical Fiction          Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

MG – City of Secrets

Ying, Victoria. City of Secrets. Viking, 2020. 978-0-593-11448-3. 252 p. $22.99. Grades 5-8.

In the city of Oskar there is a switchboard that connects more than just phone calls. Ever Barnes, an orphan, hides in the switchboard building and protects a secret that not even he knows. When the owner of the switchboard brings his daughter Hannah to see how it works, she discovers Ever and is instantly intrigued. When a secret society threatens to kill Ever and take the secret for themselves, Hannah, Ever and a switchboard worker must go to great lengths to protect the secret and the city.

THOUGHTS: This graphic novel delivers a beautiful storyline and will captivate readers who love adventure and spy stories! Both of the children in the story play a vital role, and it is a breath of fresh air to see a girl protagonist. This graphic novel does not disappoint!

Graphic Novel          Jillian Gasper, Northwestern Lehigh SD