MG – Dark Waters

Arden, Katherine. Dark Waters. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 978-0-593-10915-1. $16.99. 198 p. Grades 4-7.

Best friends Brian, Ollie and Coco are back in this third book of Katherine Arden’s spooky Small Spaces series. This time, the three friends, Ollie’s dad, Coco’s mom, and school acquaintance Phil are on a quest to find Champ, the legendary monster that supposedly lives in Lake Champlain. The group sets sail on the tour boat Cassandra with Phil’s uncle, Dane Dimmonds, so that Coco’s mom can write an article about Champ for the local paper, but the trip quickly turns deadly when a real lake monster sinks the boat, kills a member of the tour group, and strands the survivors on a remote island on Lake Champlain. Brian recognizes similarities in their plight to a story he read about a smuggler’s ship that disappeared over 200 years ago on the same lake, and he also worries that The Smiling Man that tried to trap the friends during previous adventures is involved in this newest disaster as well. Phil, Ollie, Coco, and Brian must work together with their knowledge of the Smiling Man and his evil tricks if they want to get off the island alive!

THOUGHTS: This book would appeal to a wide range of middle school readers; it combines ghost stories, paranormal activities, adventure, and survival into one thrilling story! The dynamics of this friend group are realistic and engaging, and the chilling presence of The Smiling Man provides a consistent thread throughout this series that will keep readers coming back for many future adventures.

Horror Fiction          Erin Faulkner, Cumberland Valley SD

Elem. – Off the Beaten Track

Kerangal, Maylis de. Off the Beaten Track. Greystone Kids, 2021. 978-1-771-64685-7. Unpaged. $18.95. Grades 3-6.

Ten-year-old Paul goes on a mountain trek with Bruce, an old family friend. Paul is somewhat unsure of himself at the beginning of their journey, lacking the confidence of a seasoned mountain climber. However, when he and Bruce find themselves in a precarious situation, Paul must find courage within himself in order to save their lives. The adventurous narrative is complemented by simple graphics in a limited palette of blues, browns, reds, and whites. The story does leave the reader with unanswered questions (such as what happened to Paul’s parents, as he lives with his aunt and uncle), but the unconventional style of the book still warrants its consideration for purchase.

THOUGHTS: Although the story itself left something to be desired, I found the uniqueness of this book very intriguing. Not only was the style of the illustrations uncommon, but the way the book was actually written was also unusual. The illustrator completed the images first, using only his own imagination, and then the author viewed the illustrations to invent the story. I absolutely could see this being used in a classroom for students or groups of students to invent their own stories in a similar fashion.

Picture Book          Julie Ritter, PSLA Member

MG – The Middler

Applebaum, Kirsty. The Middler. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. 978-1-250-31733-9. 262 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7.

Eleven year old Maggie is a middler, nothing special like an eldest, and is mainly ignored and invisible in her town of Fennis Wick. When Maggie meets a “wanderer” who lives outside the boundary, she decides she wants to step up and get noticed by trying to capture her. Once Maggie steps outside her town and into the boundary that has always kept her isolated, everything she has ever known and believed gets turned upside down. Join Maggie in this dystopian adventure that exposes the lies her town has told for years and changes the way of their world forever. Fans of The Giver will love this debut novel!

THOUGHTS: A must purchase for any middle grade library collection.

Fantasy          Krista Fitzpatrick, Waldron Mercy Academy