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March 2023

There’s something about the magic of roaming through a small town that makes you want to be a child again. Recently I’ve read through a pile of middle grade chapter books, all set in small towns, and all featuring spunky main characters who have any number of independent adventures. If you’re longing for simpler times, or want to share with your child the joy of a summer without cell phones, texting, video games or TV, then these are the books for you.

The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald

Spend time with J.D. and his older brother Tom, “The Great Brain.” The Great Brain concocts all sorts of schemes to get rich and make his life easier, while J.D. just tries to keep up.

The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs by Betty G. Birney

Eben longs to see the world and can’t imagine ever finding anything wonderful in his hometown of Sassafras Springs. When his father promises Eben a trip to Colorado if Eben can find seven wonders at home, Eben is certain that it can’t be done. Nevertheless, he begins his search the very next day…

Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren

Ronia will inherit her father’s band of robbers someday, if only they can defend themselves from the king’s soldiers and the competing band of robbers who have moved in next door. But Ronia doesn’t want to be a robber, she doesn’t want to fight soldiers, and her best friend is Birk, son of the rival robber chieftain. Magic, family, friendship and woodland adventures make this a tale that’s hard to put down.

Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright

Garnet finds a thimble which brings its own magic to her Wisconsin farm. Could a summer be anything but magical when it brings a new brother, a new barn, some new stories to tell, and of course, a blue ribbon at the fair?


Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

07th December 2012

This was a fun book, perfect for young fans of  “Harry Potter” style stories. It’s a blend of dystopia survival with magical elements and intrigue. While it’s action packed and suspenseful, it’s not frightening or gruesome, and would be an excellent read-aloud or independent read for grades 4-7.

Rebecca’s life is turned upside down when her mother suddenly takes Rebecca and her little brother from their Baltimore home to their grandmother’s home in Atlanta. Expecting a quick trip, Rebecca is shocked to learn that they have left her father behind, and will be staying in Atlanta. New school, new kids, new house, new city. Rebecca is furious with her mother, and homesick for her dad and Baltimore.

When Rebecca discovers a magical bread box in her grandma’s attic, she thinks that she has found an easy solution to her problems. But even though her wishes are being granted, her problems seem to multiply. Somehow, Rebecca must figure out a way to make everything right again. This would be an excellent book to read in conjunction with Eight Keys. Both books have similar themes of grief, bullying, friendship and family, and it would be interesting to compare and contrast how the characters deal with their problems. Another excellent read for 5th-8th grade girls.

Orphaned by the brutal murder of her parents,  Princess Ben, the only heir to the throne,  is confined to the castle by Queen Sophia.  Ben misses her parents and chafes under the restrictive and controlling queen.  When she discovers a secret tower full of magic, Ben begins learning the secret and long-forgotten magical arts.  At first, this is just a diversion, but when her country’s sovereignty is threatened, Ben must put her new powers to work and defend her country.

There were many things that delighted me about this book, one being the clever allusions to numerous fairy tales woven neatly into the plot.  But more than that, even though this book was full of witches, magic and dragons, it had a very “real” sense about it.  Princess Ben was a very real character.  No slender, beautiful, graceful princesses here!  Ben is overweight, sometimes sullen, selfish and lazy.  Because of that, she’s a character that you can relate to and love.  Ben’s search for true love is real, and even her use of magic is tempered with a good bit of common sense!  Ben’s parents were also very real, and instead of being demonized (as so many Young Adult books tend to do) they are celebrated.  My favorite quote comes right at the end:

…I dedicate this work to her memory as well as that of my parents, for however we might criticize those who rear us, the fact that we survive at all into adulthood, however late that passage comes, is testament enough to their ability and perseverance.  p. 344

Henry Day is stolen by some changelings when he is 6 years old.  Henry goes to live in the forest with the other changelings, and becomes “Aniday.”  Meanwhile, a changeling takes Henry’s place in life.  No one knows that the boy who was “Henry” has disppeared.  No one knows that the boy who is now Henry is really an imposter.

But a simple synopsis of this book cerainly doesn’t do it justice.   Donohue’s book is rich with detail and depth.  He explores the parent-child relationship; the power of books, reading and writing to bring meaning and understanding; the beauty of friendship; the myth of the changelings; and the freedom of forgiveness.

My favorite quote comes when a changeling observes a human boy reunite with his mother after an hour playing at the park.  The changeling observes:

A thin smile creased [the boy’s] face when she arrived, and without a word he jumped down from the swing, grabbed her hand, and off they went.  Their behavior and interaction baffled me.  Parents and children take such everyday moments for granted, as if there is an endless supply.

The changelings spend hundreds of years longing for a human family.  Too often I feel as if I spend the time I have with my children wishing it was naptime!  The reminder that the moments I have with my precious children are finite is a timely and necessary one.

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