Holiday House, Peachtree, and Pixel+Ink New Releases!


Houdini and Me by Dan Gutman (Holiday House, for ages 8–12, available now)

Household favorite Dan Gutman is back with a new stand-alone novel. Eleven-year-old Harry Mancini is NOT Harry Houdini, but he DOES live in Houdini’s old New York City home and definitely knows everything there is to know about Houdini’s life. When someone claiming to be Houdini contacts Harry via text offering him a chance to go back in time and experience some of Houdini’s greatest tricks for himself, will Harry take him up on his offer or ignore what must be a hoax?

Review: Eleven-year-old Harry Mancini is obsessed with Harry Houdini, the great escape artist. Not only has he read every book he can get his hands on about Houdini, but he lives in the same house in New York where Houdini lived. There is a plaque on the outside of the building to prove it.

Harry suffers a live threatening accident which leaves him in a coma. When he awakes he discovers an old-fashioned flip phone among the flowers, chocolates and get-well cards sent from his many friends and well-wishers. There is no indication who sent the phone and although Harry desperately wants a cell phone, he is embarrassed by it and hides it in his bureau drawer. That night the phone buzzes to reveal a text message from someone who says he is Harry Houdini. At first he thinks it’s a prank, but as time goes on the messages continue and the caller reveals more and more obscure facts about Houdini’s life. Can it be? Is he really communicating with the dead Harry Houdini? This book provides a fun romp combining magic realism with lots of true facts about New York City, Houdini, and his many feats of magic and escapism. Highly recommended middle grade read.


Middle School Bites: Tom Bites Back by Steven Banks, illustrated by Mark Fearing (Holiday House, for ages 8–12, available now)

Eleven-year-old Tom was bit by a vampire, a werewolf, and a zombie right before the first day of middle school. It was a weird and crazy day. At least his neighbors and classmates seem to have accepted him. Annie even wants him to join her band! Plus, there are some cool things about having vampire and werewolf traits. But when the bat that bit Tom shows up again, and speaks to him, he knows it's time for a new plan. Tom's laugh-out-loud adventures continue later this summer with Middle School Bites: Out for Blood.

Review: My 10 year old daughter devoured this book in a matter of days and said even though the plot seems unrealistic it’s actually written in a way that it’s very believable. She LOVED both books.


The Infamous Frankie Lorde 1: Stealing Greenwich by Brittany Geragotelis (Pixel+Ink, for ages 10–14, available now)

A pre-teen international thief turns over a new leaf (sort of) to right societal wrongs in her snooty new town in this upper middle grade series starter. Frankie is forced to navigate an entirely unfamiliar world: suburbia as a normal middle schooler. As Frankie tries to adjust, she can’t help but notice the stark contrast between the lives of the super-rich and the super-not-rich, who support the community. . .and this gives her an idea. What if she put her less-than-legal know-how to good use and evened the score. . .? Frankie will be back later this summer with The Infamous Frankie Lorde 2: Going Wild.

Review: What a fun story “Stealing Greenwich” turned out to be! I’ve never read a middle-grade heist novel before, and this book was super fun!

Firstly, I loved how the author made the story adventurous and exciting yet light-hearted at the same time. The events that occur are thrilling, yet the characters are so endearing that they balanced perfectly with the plot. Some of my favorite moments in the story were when Frankie and Ollie go to scope Christian Miles’s house and what they find there. I laughed so much when Ollie talks to Mrs. Bailey.

Frankie is terrific in the lead. She is crafty, intelligent, confident, and not scared to try something new. I loved how conflicted her feelings are to do the right thing, even if her approach towards it is not. It was interesting to see how she managed with Uncle Scotty after working with her father for so long. Moreover, I loved her friendship with Ollie. Ollie is hilarious as the flamboyant sidekick, and I loved the snarky responses he gave her for coming relief.


A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House, for ages 8–12, available now)

After the death of their not-so-beloved grandmother, siblings William, Edmond, and Anna find themselves in need of a guardian. Evacuated with other schoolchildren during World War II, the siblings go to live in the countryside with the secret hope of finding a permanent family. Readers who love heartwarming stories about found families will gravitate towards this debut novel from Kate Albus.

Review:  5 STARS!! I readily admit that what I think about a book is directly proportional to my emotional reaction to it. In this case, A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON by Kate Albus gave me ALL the feels, and I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. Historical fiction is not my favorite genre, but this story about three siblings who are sent to the countryside in England during World War II grabbed me from the beginning and held on until the very end.

William, Edmund and Anna have lived with “the” grandmother in London since their parents died many years ago. When she dies and the children are left without a guardian, its decided to quietly send them to the countryside with a school group evacuating London, in the hopes that their billeting family might be willing to keep them forever. Their hopes are dashed when they end up with the Forrester family, whose two sons endeavor to make their stay extremely unpleasant. As one bad situation leads to another, and the kids must adjust to some terrible conditions, the one constant in their life is the local librarian, Mrs. Muller, and the welcoming atmosphere of the library. She is an outcast in the community because her missing husband is German, but when the children need her most, she is the one adult they can count on.

I absolutely love the author’s writing. There is a hopefulness runs throughout the story, even when the children face extremely difficult circumstances. The relationships are the key for me; not only those between the three siblings (I love how devoted William is to his younger siblings, especially Anna), but each of their attachments to Mrs. Muller for different reasons. Each of their foster families gives the reader a look into the challenges facing the people in the community in the early part of the war without being a heavy story, and though the harsh realities are not ignored (the scene with the rats was pretty intense for me) they are not the central focus.

It’s a heartwarming story that I am anxious to add to my collection so I can share this story with young readers. (friend Kathie)


The Girl Who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook (Peachtree Publishing Company, for ages 8–12, available now)

Chaya can’t resist the shiny temptations the king’s palace has to offer. But playing Robin Hood for her impoverished community doesn’t come without risks. When Chaya steals the queen’s jewels, a messy getaway gets her arrested. After an equally haphazard prison break, Chaya escapes on the king’s prized elephant! With leeches and revolution lurking in the jungle, Chaya sets off on a thrilling adventure. Can she return to her village as a hero? Or will Chaya’s sticky fingers be the beginning—or the end—of everything?

Review: Chaya is a girl who just wants to take care of those who need help in her community. But she chooses to do so by stealing from the rich to give to the poor. When she decides to steal the Queen's jewels things start to spiral and she is launched into an adventure for which she cannot plan the outcome.

Set in Sri Lanka, this book made me feel that I was in the jungle with Chaya and friends. I appreciated that Chaya, although she sees herself as this chivalrous and good person, also has to learn to contend with her own biases too. She still has some lessons to learn as the book concludes, but she has grown as a character.

This is a novel where events unfold at a rapid fire pace. Probably for readers on the lower end of the middle grade range, this will be one that you will want to discuss with your kids so they are sure to learn from Chaya's wins and mistakes.


Violet and the Pie of Life by Debra Green (Holiday House, for ages 8–12, available now)

Twelve-year-old Violet has two great loves in her life: math and pie. She also loves her parents, even though her mom is a bit of a nagger and her dad can be unreliable. Combined with friendship troubles, Violet realizes friendship and family have more variables than she thought. Filled with warmth, math-y humor, and delicious pie, this heartfelt book includes illustrated charts, graphs, and diagrams throughout.

Review: I love this book for so many reasons. Violet has a rocky journey through her parent's divorce, and as she begins to see her parents for who they really are, she also finally sees her friends and their lives for what they are, realizing that families can be fractured in a multitude of ways. Ultimately Violet understands that it's her own life she needs to focus on—her own pie, and how that's divided (and served :)).

Speaking of her friends, and the kids at school, they are all so different, and there are personality issues that come through with just the right tone. Middle school can be tough to navigate, and it's captured really well in this story. In the midst of it all there's the school play, Violet's love of pie, and her gift with math, which comes across not only because of the storyline with her math teacher, but also because it's shown in how Violet thinks/processes information. She doesn't just think of math in terms of problems, she thinks of it in terms of highs and lows and how they relate to each other ... she processes life with math. This is shown throughout the book using a multitude of different graphs, and flow and pie charts, as Violet assesses her thoughts and feelings and what's going on and decides what to do about the problem at hand. Readers in grades 3-7 will see themselves, their friends, and their families, within the pages of this book, and through Violet they might see a different way to process what's happening in their own lives. Hopeful, truthful, and fun, I highly recommend this book!


Homer on the Case by Henry Cole (Peachtree Publishing Company, for ages 8–12, available now)

A homing pigeon teams up with a parrot and their humans to investigate an animal crime spree in this action-packed, illustrated detective story. Homer and his friend Lulu learn something is afoul when they witness four-legged criminals stealing valuables from both the animal and human communities. Lulu and Homer track down the bandits, but need human help to stop them for good. The book will  keep readers guessing if the crime-solving pigeon will get his guy.

Review: This was an adorable pigeon-centric mystery/adventure book. Homer, the pigeon, solved the crime through determination, and with the help of his friends. The plot was fast moving and all the characters well written.

If I had any complaints it was with the formatting. At times the paragraphs ran together making it hard to tell who was talking. BTW I checked the pdf version and it was perfect.
Because it seemed to be an isolated issue, I am revising to give this wonderful story (and the illustrations) a five star review. I did read it on kindle, however, so publisher might want to check that out. All readers should be able to enjoy the fun story.


Lillian’s Fish by James Menk, illustrated by Louisa Bauer (Peachtree Publishing Company, for ages 8–12, available now)

Lillian’s favorite gift is an extraordinary fish whose body shimmers with all the colors of the rainbow. But when the birthday fish disappears, Lillian is devastated. While she and her brothers try to unravel the mystery, the other family pets secretly embark on a mission to find the fish. A trail of clues soon leads the animals‚—and readers—on a fantastic adventure of family and friendship.

Review: In my personal experience, children are thrilled by the adventures of Lillian's fish and her barn yard friends. We've had kids ask incredibly insightful questions about the characters as if they were truly real and not fiction, very similar to my own excited attachment to the literary characters of my childhood. What strikes me most about this sweet book is the fact it does not patronize... it allows children to challenge their own imaginations in a uniquely wonderful way. And the lesson is a profound one... we are all responsible for one another, that no matter how different we are, we are of one family. A truly special book.


The Great Peach Experiment 1: When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie by Erin Soderberg Downing (Pixel+Ink, for ages 8–12, available now)

From children’s editor turned series author Erin Soderberg Downing comes a new series about a family who takes on a series of mad-cap business ventures with varying levels of success. In the first book in the series, the Peaches discover they are suddenly millionaires and decide to purchase a peach pie food truck to bond in the wake of their mom’s death as way of honoring her love of fun and adventure. But there’s one problem: none them know how to make peach pie!

Review: I didn’t want this book to end, and I also wanted to hug it when it did!

The Peach family stole a piece of my heart. What’s not to love about a midwestern road trip, a pie-making food truck, a contest with a possible $10,000 prize to win, and a unique cast of characters sharing their sketches and postcards along the way?  I love that each family member chose their own individual goals for their summertime adventure as well. This is a book I foresee recommending to a number of my students and to teachers for read alouds. I hear a book 2 is in the works and I am enthusiastically awaiting the return of the Peach family. I always say the Vanderbeekers are my favorite family in kid lit and the Peach family is definitely joining them in the rankings of most lovable kid lit families.


Six Feet Below Zero by Ena Jones (Holiday House, for ages 8–12, available now)

Siblings Rosie and Baker must pretend their great grandmother is still alive until they can get her will into the right hands. But the lies get bigger and bigger as they try to keep their neighbors from prying, and they know they’re really in trouble once their wicked grandmother shows up! Part Little Miss Sunshine, part Weekend at Bernie’s, this unexpectedly touching read from Ena Jones remind us that all families are weird and wonderful.

Review: With a tagline like this, I expected a dark comedy: "A dead body. A missing will. An evil relative. The good news is, Great-Grammy has a plan. The bad news is, she's the dead body."

Ena Jones has tempered the humorous concept of her book with genuine heart. Yes, there is humor here -- for the reader -- but the author has never, for an instant, forgotten the emotional impact on Rosie and Baker, who have lost their beloved guardian. Suspense is tempered by actual grief.

BUT their grandmother -- Grim Hesper -- is more devious than they (and I) expected. Can Rosie and Baker outsmart her?

I thoroughly enjoyed and marveled at the author's skill conjuring a climax that brings all the characters together with the terrible secret in the basement freezer teetering on the brink of discovery ...

An excellent MG romp -- while still being a bit tear-worthy.


Everywhere Blue by Joanne Rossmassler Fritz (Holiday House, for ages 8–12, available now)

When twelve-year-old Maddie's older brother vanishes from his college campus, her carefully ordered world falls apart. Strum’s disappearance turns her family upside down, revealing painful secrets that threaten the life they've always known. Drowning in grief and confusion, the family's musical household falls silent. This powerful debut novel in verse addresses the climate crisis, intergenerational discourse, and mental illness in an accessible, hopeful way.

Review:  This is a story first and foremost. What I mean by that is, not once is the language there just to be beautiful, yet it is SO beautiful, and JRF makes each line sing as it all comes together as a perfectly-paced song. EVERYWHERE BLUE captures the emotional essence of 12-year-old Maddie's journey as she struggles to figure out her world as it really is—her father, her mother, her big sister, her best friend—and why her older brother just walked away from his college campus without a word to anyone. Unforgettable emotional imagery throughout the book . . . one of my (many) favorite lines: "The silence is like an egg. Perfect and whole. Then she cracks it open. 'I'm really sorry about your brother,' Emma says." Loved this book!


Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransome (Holiday House, for ages 8–12, available now)

Behind every bad boy is a story worth hearing and at least one chance for redemption. It's 1946 and Lymon’s world as he knows it is about to dissolve. He will be sent on a journey to two Northern cities far from the country life he loves—and the version of himself he knows. In the companion novel to the Coretta Scott King Honor winning Finding Langston, readers will see a new side of the bully Lymon in this story of an angry boy whose raw talent, resilience, and devotion to music help point him in a new direction. The trilogy will be complete this August, with Being Clem.

Review:  Lymon, who has music in his bones, has too many strikes against him to make growing into young adulthood easy.

Young Lymon Is an African American boy living in 1940s Mississippi with his loving, guitar-playing grandpops and ever disgruntled grandmother, called Ma. Lymon’s has a mother in Chicago, but he’s told she is flighty and when Lymon was born to his teenaged mother, Daisy, she abandoned him.

After moving to Chicago, Daisy started herself another family;

Grady is Lymon’s father, and is incarcerated at Parchman a prison camp with unspeakable bad conditions. Grady is a good man who loves his son , but when he gets out of prison, he flighty as well.
As you see Lymon has a tough life. He is a likeable child and worthy of so much more yet Lymon seems to attract negativity. When Grandpops dies and Ma sickens from diabetes, the relatives can no longer afford Lymon’s upkeep. They send him to Chicago to live with Daisy, her two sons, and her husband, Robert, who beats Lymon regularly. After Lymon takes money from Robert, the money sent by an aunt for his upkeep, the police send him to a boys’ home, which proves to be a turning point in his life.

Cline-Ransome’s is a new author for me and I recognize masterful storytelling and will read more of her work. I predict Middle school readers will be engaged in the hard life of Lymon Caldwell while learning about historical racial biases in the penal system, the plight of children during the Great Migration, the discrimination faced by Northern blacks, and more. (Historical fiction. 8-12)


The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe by Tricia Springstubb (Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House, for ages 8–12, available now)

Eleven-year-old Loah Londonderry is definitely a homebody. While her mother works to save endangered birds in the Arctic tundra, Loah anxiously awaits her return. When Dr. Londonderry sets off on a perilous solo quest, Loah wonders if her mother cares more about birds than own her daughter. After a series of unfortunate events, Loah finds herself alone—except for her friend Ellis—and tasked with finding the courage and heart to find help for her mother, who is lost at the top of the world.

Review: A very engaging middle grade novel that is well put together and not complicated in the slightest. The book is very well written given the primary topic of the book (bird watching). The main character is constantly getting bullied; chubby, lazy eye, non-athletic. Her mother bought a house that needs so much work; yet, not concerned about the house. Her mother leaves on a job and leaves her with an older couple. The couple works really hard to get Loah outside more and takes really good care of her. Loah gets freaked out one day at her house as Loah runs into a young boy and girl in a fork in the road - the two kids are very self sufficient (essentially raising themselves). After a while, her mom calls Loah to let her know that she is not returning because she swears that she has found this super rare bird. Loah is disappointed, but never feels as though her mother doesn't lover her, just learning that her mother loves nature the exact same. Loah starts to get a spiral of bad news (when it rains it pours) - including potentially losing her home. Loah's caretakers are now both in the hospital. Loah runs into the kids again, inviting the young girl who was "running away" to stay with her. This girl from the woods gives Loah courage and bravery that she never once portrayed having. Loah gets a phone call from her mom and Loah realizes something is very, very wrong. Loah finding a way to her moms university seeks out her boss to find a way to get her mother back. Again, she returns to bad news with child protective services at her front door on top of her house being condemned, BUT mom will be returning and was injured.

You don't have to leave home to find adventure and discoveries.

Themes: climate change, self acceptance, bullying, courage, bravery, friendship, and true family.

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