It's 1863 and dinosaurs roam the streets of New York as the Civil War rages between raptor-mounted armies down South. Magdalys Roca and her friends from the Colored Orphan Asylum are on a field trip when the Draft Riots break out, and a number of their fellow orphans are kidnapped by an evil magistrate, Richard Riker.
Magdalys and her friends flee to Brooklyn and settle in the Dactyl Hill neighborhood, where black and brown New Yorkers have set up an independent community--a safe haven from the threats of Manhattan. Together with the Vigilance Committee, they train to fly on dactylback, discover new friends and amazing dinosaurs, and plot to take down Riker. Can Magdalys and the squad rescue the rest of their friends before it's too late?
Do I really need to tell you anything else besides THIS IS A CIVIL WAR STORY WITH DINOSAURS? Because, honestly, that’s all it took for me. I mean, ok, it is written by Daniel Jose Older whose adult and YA books I’ve loved. Why wouldn’t I love his new middle grade series?
The dinosaurs are both all important and just part of the background in this world. They are used as draft animals. The big ones function as buses and ferries. Triceratops pull carts. The bad guys ride carnivorous dinos.
This fantasy imagery is set along side a plot inspired by real events. There was a ring of white businessmen in New York who kidnapped and sold free colored people into slavery. The colored children’s home did burn in the Draft Riots. This book imagines what would have happened if the survivors of the fire found their way to a resistance cell and learned to fight back — WITH DINOSAURS!
I’d recommend this book to anyone because of the imaginative world building and a look at a part of Civil War history that isn’t often discussed, even without there being dinosaurs. The dinosaur angle would work well to pull in readers who may be reluctant to read a book about the past.
About Daniel José Older
“Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper(Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015). Publishers Weekly hailed him as a “rising star of the genre” after the publication of his debut ghost noir collection, Salsa Nocturna. He co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. His short stories and essays have appeared in the Guardian, NPR, Tor.com, Salon, BuzzFeed, Fireside Fiction, the New Haven Review, PANK, Apex and Strange Horizons and the anthologies Subversion and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond. Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs around New York and he teaches workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis.” – from his website
From the creator of Dragonbreath comes a tale of witches, minions, and one fantastic castle, just right for fans of Roald Dahl and Tom Angleberger.
When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn't who she says she is.
This quirky, richly illustrated novel is filled with humor, magic, and an unforgettable all-star cast of castle characters.
This book has everything I absolutely love about fantasy books. It is chock full of imagination and whimsy. There are also dragons. You must have dragons.
Molly knows that she is going to be a Wicked Witch. She can do some magic. She has an over-the-top Good Twin. So she steals an invitation to apply for the job of Master of Castle Hangnail. Who cares that she is only 12?
The Guardian of the castle cares, for a start. He knows the castle is in danger of being decommissioned if a new master isn’t found who can complete all the tasks assigned. There needs to be proper blighting and smiting and defending of the castle and capturing the hearts of the villagers (probably literally if the new master is an Evil Sorceress or a Vampire). Can a cheery 12 year old manage that?
I love the staff of the castle.
The Guardian has served under many truly evil masters and knows how minions should be properly treated. He isn’t prepared to be given an actual name and thanked for things. It just isn’t right.
Pins is a stuffed doll who can sew anything, including waterproof sweaters for his goldfish
The goldfish is a hypochondriac
Cook is a Minotaur who is very angry about the letter Q
Angus is Cook’s son and general helper
Edward is an enchanted suit of armor with rusty knees
There is a woman made of steam. This happens when a djinn mates with a human woman who didn’t know she had mermaid ancestry.
There are clockwork bees and all kinds of bats including one insomniac bat who stays awake during the day and sleeps at night.
Molly is going to be Wicked but not Evil. Wicked will punish a person to make them think about what they did. Evil will hurt people for fun. So she blights weeds and asks around to see who is being mean and is in need of a good smiting. When she finds someone who is mean to his donkey, she uses a spell to turn the donkey temporarily into a dragon to scare the mean man. After that all the animals want to take a turn being a dragon, of course!
This book was absolutely delightful from beginning to end. I read it in a day. I was hoping that there was going to be a follow up to see what happens next at Castle Hangnail but so far, no luck.
Gladys Gatsby has dreamed of becoming a restaurant critic for New York's biggest newspaper--she just didn’t expect to be assigned her first review at age 11. Now, if she wants to meet her deadline and hang on to her dream job, she’ll have to defy her fast-food-loving parents, cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy, and battle Manhattan’s meanest maitre d’.
Gladys loves food. She loves to read about it, cook it, and eat it. Her parents don’t care about food at all. They pick up dinner from fast food restaurants every night. If they do try to cook, they believe that everything can be cooked just as well in a microwave as on a stove or oven.
Because of this Gladys as been cooking in secret for years. She gets caught the day that her parents come home early just as she sets the kitchen curtains on fire while trying to crisp the top of a creme brulee.
Now she’s in trouble. Cooking is forbidden for six months and/or until she makes some friends and gets involved with what her parents consider normal kids’ activities.
She’s trying to comply but when her entry into a newspaper essay contest in confused for a job application for a freelance food writer, she gets an assignment to review a dessert restaurant. Now she has to find a way to get to New York City from Long Island for her chance to make it big.
This book was really cute. It would appeal to anyone who is more into food than the people around them. If your family doesn’t understand why full fat is better to cook with than nonfat or why you can’t use coffee shop sweetener packets instead of sugar when baking, then you understand Gladys’ troubles.
My only complaint is that I wish there were recipes for the desserts she made.
Alice Mayfair, twelve years old, slips through the world unseen and unnoticed. Ignored by her family and shipped off to her eighth boarding school, Alice would like a friend. And when she rescues Millie Maximus from drowning in a lake one day, she finds one.
But Millie is a Bigfoot, part of a clan who dwells deep in the woods. Most Bigfoots believe that people—NoFurs, as they call them—are dangerous, yet Millie is fascinated with the No-Fur world. She is convinced that humans will appreciate all the things about her that her Bigfoot tribe does not: her fearless nature, her lovely singing voice, and her desire to be a star.
Alice swears to protect Millie’s secret. But a league of Bigfoot hunters is on their trail, led by a lonely kid named Jeremy. And in order to survive, Alice and Millie have to put their trust in each other—and have faith in themselves—above all else.
I picked up this book at BEA last year because I like Jennifer Weiner’s adult fiction. I don’t read a lot of middle grade so I would have missed this one otherwise.
Alice is the neglected child of wealthy New Yorkers who don’t know what to do with her. She doesn’t fit into their vision of what a child of theirs should be. She’s messy and clumsy and too big. For some reason she never fits into the schools she’s attended. Now she is being shipped off to boarding school in upstate New York. The school is populated by other misfits who Alice keeps her distance from. She knows they will eventually reject her too.
Millie is a Yare. They are known as Bigfoot to No-Furs. They are quiet and meek. Millie is not. She wants to meet a No-Fur so much. Eventually Millie and Alice meet which brings the Yare tribe into danger from the local humans.
After I read this I thought that my stepdaughter would enjoy it. She refused to even look at it so we read it out loud during a road trip. She got mad and put her ear buds in so she didn’t have to hear a stupid story. We did notice her listening every so often though.
Alice believes that she is fat and ugly and that her hair is a disaster. She judges herself and everyone around her very harshly. These judgements are presented as facts in the book. She mocks people in her mind over any difference. She learns to bully people to gain acceptance.
Eventually this all backfires on her and she is an outcast again. She learns to accept people for their differences by the end of the book. But I can see people being uncomfortable with the mocking and harsh judging of other characters and viewpoints before this point.
Not all of the issues are resolved at the end so I hope this means that we will be reading more of Alice and Millie.
“Naomi Soledad León Outlaw has had a lot to contend with in her young life, her name for one. Then there are her clothes (sewn in polyester by Gram), her difficulty speaking up, her status at school as “nobody special.” But according to Gram’s self-prophecies, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. Luckily, Naomi also has her carving to strengthen her spirit. And life with Gram and her little brother, Owen, is happy and peaceful. That is, until their mother reappears after 7 years of being gone, stirring up all sorts of questions and challenging Naomi to discover who she really is.”
Naomi and Owen were left with their great-grandmother in Southern California when their mother decided that she didn’t want the responsibility of caring for them anymore. Owen was born with physical disabilities and this was too much for their mother to handle. Now, seven years and several surgeries later, Owen is thriving but he still has some obvious disabilities. Naomi is happy at home in the trailer with Owen and Gran and their close community of neighbors. Then their mother reappears with a new name, Skyla, and a new boyfriend. She wants to take Naomi to live with her. Just Naomi.
Naomi and Owen are half Mexican but they have no connection to the Mexican side of their family since their mother refused to let their father see them after they divorced. He has sent money to Gran to help out though. Now, to help bolster support for Gran to be able to keep the kids they head to Mexico to try to find him. They know that he always attends the Oaxaca Radish carving competitions around Christmas so they head there. (Yes, that is a real thing.)
This story highlights the world of a young girl who doesn’t realize how much her family turmoil has affected her until it is time for her to stand up for herself and her brother. Her world is widened by meeting her Mexican relatives and by finding out more about her parents. Kids whose parents have left them imagine all kinds of scenarios about them returning. When it doesn’t work out in the way they expect, it can be devastating. Gran has tried to shield them from the truth but it is coming out now and they have to deal with the consequences. Gran has always been their rock and now they see her scared and unsure of what to do. Naomi and Owen react differently which accurately represents their ages and personalities.
This is a middle grade book. I’d recommend it for any kid who doesn’t know quite where they fit in the world. Also, seriously, radish carving – that is a weirdly interesting competition.
“The next person who compares Chloe Cho with famous violinist Abigail Yang is going to HEAR it. Chloe has just about had it with people not knowing the difference between someone who’s Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. She’s had it with people thinking that everything she does well — getting good grades, winning first chair in the orchestra, etCETera — are because she’s ASIAN. Of course, her own parents don’t want to have anything to DO with their Korean background. Any time Chloe asks them a question they change the subject. They seem perfectly happy to be the only Asian family in town. It’s only when Chloe’s with her best friend, Shelly, that she doesn’t feel like a total alien.”
I don’t generally read middle grade fiction but the premise of this story was too cute to pass up. Chloe can’t understand why her parents won’t talk about Korea. It seems like Chloe knows more about Korea than they do and they were born there. Any attempts to ask questions are quickly shut down with the excuse that it is too painful to talk about it.
When Chloe gets a new teacher who happens to be Korean, she is so excited. Her teacher encourages her to look into her family history. There is even an assignment to ask a relative to tell you about an event in their life and report on it. That’s when things start to unravel.
The author shows what it is like to be the only person of a nationality in an otherwise homogeneous community. He shows how books can be a lifeline. There is a great section where Chloe tries to find science fiction books with Asians on the cover and can’t do it. The only problem with having that in the book is this:
Yes, Chloe’s dad owns a fish store. But you’d think with a big part of the story focusing on the lack of Asian representation in sci-fi (and especially on covers), maybe, just maybe, there could be Asians on the cover?
Even if you don’t usually read middle grade, this is a book worth picking up. Chloe is a believable middle schooler in the midst of an identity crisis. Her story is worth the read to understand how microaggressions can add up even if the speaker had the best of intentions.