Magic, Dragons and One Mean Witch!


Jax is a nine-year old boy living in Brooklyn with his mother. He is a compliant kid. But when his mother drops him off at Ma’s place for the day while she goes to court to deal with their possible eviction, he is in for an adventure that will require him to assert himself, take unprecedented risks and show cunning and bravery.  Ma, who is not a relative but did raise his mama, is about as friendly as an angry rattlesnake  Initially, Jax is afraid of Ma, which gives way to anger, then couriosity. She reluctantly allows him to stay for the day, but hisses orders at him, trys to keep him away from her things and berates him for his potential eviction.  A box sitting on a table is covered in postage from Madagascar and Jax observes it moving.  Ma guards it carefully, but Jax spies her transferring its contents to a small mints container. Eventually, through sleuthing and disobeying Ma, Jax finds that, shockingly, there are lizard-like creatures in the tin, three of them. Ma reacts strongly to his snooping and Jax decides to bail, running out of Ma’s apartment only to have her follow him.

Their discussion becomes a turning point in their relationship. Ma takes some responsibility for her gruffness and confesses that she is a witch. Jax insists that she be more respectful and gains some insight into her actions. From here, the fantasy element of the story takes off. Ma lets Jax know that she has been assigned transport of the lizards, which are really dragons, to their magical destination. Jax, who now knows that his mother was offered the chance to be Ma’s applrentice when she was young but chose not to enter the magical life, decides to embrace the adventure. With the help of magical characters and a couple of friends, Jax enters the magical world of witchcraft to discover if it’s his destiny to be part of the magical realm.

Jax’s relationship with Ma evolves from rocky to loving through their adventures: transporting to a magical world, losing Ma, losing one of the dragons, finding them both and, in the process, finding his passion.

This is a great book for new fantasy readers as they wade into the genre, and would be a fun  general fantasy story for third and fourth grade chapter book readers and reluctant readers in higher grades.

What I liked about this book:

Ma is the quintessential “hard on the outside, soft on the inside” character. It’s entertaining to witness the way in which Zetta Elliott artfully engineers Ma’s transformation through her relationship with Jax, a mere mortal and a young one, at that.

Variety makes this book spicy through these ingredients:  a variety of cultures, characters that span a wide range of ages and even one character that is invisible!

Written by Zetta Elliott

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level: No test yet written, Reading level approx. 5.0

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The Journey Begins

Thanks for landing here! I’m a teacher, reading specialist and librarian with a special place in my heart for fabulous chapter books.  I hope this blog helps parents connect their intermediate level readers (in the range of 3-6 graders)  with great chapter books, some new, some recent and, occasionally,  an older selection that shouldn’t be missed. Check in often to see the next chapter books I have scouted out!

“Great books excite reader’s imaginations and make indelible connections to lives and hearts.”  Anonymous

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High Adventure Under a Mountain?

Seems most of my Friday Flashback books have featured girls as main characters. So, viola! This week’s chapter book stars a male lead character. Leepike Ridge,  a 2008 high-adventure tale, penned by N.D. Wilson, takes readers on an adrenaline-producing  literary ride.

Tom is a frustrated kid. His father was killed by greedy treasure hunters. His mom plans to marry again and Tom just can’t deal with this soon-to-be stepfather. Angry, Tom storms down to the river, floats downstream on a piece of styrofoam and ends up in treacherous waters. Pulled into the water that flows beneath a mountain, Tom finds himself in a series of intricately woven caverns, the same ones in which his late father searched for treasure. The dark, mysterious and complex caves contain many secrets, including a dead body, strange carvings and Reginald Fisher, his father’s research colleague who has been trapped in the caverns for three years. Together, Tom and Reg form an alliance determined to survive and make their way to freedom.

Paralleling their struggle topside, Tom’s mother fights to find her son. Refusing to give up, she desperately accepts help from the most nefarious of sources, the ruthless treasure hunters responsible for her husband’s death.

The narrative contains murder, some violence and stressful situations, but for mature chapter book readers or 5th or 6th graders, the fast pace and excitement will keep them hooked from cover to cover!

Written by N.D. Wilson

Copyright 2007

Accelerated Reader Level: 4.8

Ordinary or Extraordinary? Little Difference in Spelling, BIG Difference in Life!

This new offering by Kekla  Magoon is wonderfully unique. It’s not often that a chapter book features a friendship between a couple of preteen brothers and a sixteen-year-old boy. What’s more, the brothers are naive, living with their mother and  overprotective father, while the older boy, Styx, has been seasoned by a life without parents, instead being bounced from one foster home to another. But it is this juxtaposition of friendship, different ages, different upbringings, that makes for an intriguing story.

When the brothers, Caleb and Bobby Gene, meet Styx, they are enthralled by his “worldliness”, his charisma and ability to persuade. And persuade he does. The brothers come into the possession of a bag of fireworks and Styx immediately sees the explosives as a ticket to trade. Exchanging one item for the next, Styx plans to trade up until they reach their goal………a bright green moped for sale by the owner of the local hardware store.  Along the way and through the trades, Caleb gets a taste of the confidence and  independence Styx possesses and becomes a devoted follower of the teen. Bobby Gene is impressed, as well, but,nonetheless tries to stay within the rules and boundaries set by his parents. Styx talks the pair into increasingly risky actions, including hopping a train to a nearby town. As their parents discover their blatant disregard for family norms, the situation escalates. The brothers,  sneaking out, are involved in the theft of a lawn mower engine. When the theft is revealed, father’s anger leads him to turn Styx in for masterminding the crime.

A decision to relocate Styx to yet another new foster home is made. At this point, the brothers feel they have been disloyal to Styx.  The hurt and loneliness held inside Styx is now evident. Should Caleb and Bobby Gene disobey their parents one more time to make things right? Will their father finally see their need for freedom and the importance of Styx’s friendship?

This realistic chapter book is a real page-turner, with high emotion and action galore. Magoon deftly draws a picture in words of an unconventional friendship in which young brothers expand their world and themselves, while the lonely teenager learns lessons about life and love from his two unlikely young friends. It effectively relates the struggles of kids, families and friendships to stay safe and be loved while also allowing personal growth and enough autonomy to become extraordinary.


Due to some content, I recommend that this book be read aloud by an adult to fourth and possibly fifth grade children.  Sixth graders, reading independently,  may still have questions or need clarification about the following topics: smoking seeming cool to Styx, brief mention of Styx having a girlfriend (the younger boys are confused about the relationship), boy’s nocturnal dreams (also briefly mentioned) , a violent traffic accident and children intentionally disobeying family rules.

Written by Kekla Magoon

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level: No test exists yet

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A Graphic Novel of Turbo Proportions

Turbo is a class hamster, much like the one in the Humphrey books. There are a couple of distinct differences, however, Humphrey is in a chapter book, whereas Turbo is in a GRAPHIC NOVEL. You can’t dispute the coolness of graphic novels. Also, Humphrey is a regular hamster, but Turbo is a SUPERHERO! In each installment, Turbo and his other class-pet friends, who are also secret superheroes, face danger and their evil arch nemesis, the unscrupulous rat, Whiskerface! In Super Turbo and the Fire-Breathing Dragon, Turbo and his cohorts discover a new classroom pet, vowing to rid the school of it. Afterall, it is dangerous to have a FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON in a classroom. Think of all the worksheets, art projects and, well, PAPER! When a fire does, indeed, start in the science lab, the superpets are even more resolved to remove the dragon from their school, even requesting help from Whiskerface. The question becomes : will Whiskerface truly help them or use this opportunity to take over the school?

Why I Like These Books:

These books are not jammed with bathroom humor, which wears thin after a while. There is actually a simple, clever story line that works well for 3rd and 4th grade readers, with enough illustrations and action to keep the story lively and patrons engaged.

The graphic novels are brief enough for reluctant readers to finish up and feel successful, about 115 pages.  These adventure tales with ample drawings may just get kiddos to want to start a collection!

Written by Lee Kirby

Copyright 2017, 2018 (latest in series)

Accelerated Reader Level: 3.9-4.5

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                                                            This cover represents a set of Turbo books:

Oh, the Lies that Lie Beneath the Fountain!

Just before the new millineum began, 1999 to be exact, a humorous tale was published about a fountain, an artist, school officials and, yes, a coverup (literally). Kate Klise is the talented wit behind Regarding the Fountain. If your chapter book reader hasn’t delved into this tale told in memos, letters and all sorts of correspondence, he or she is missing out.

The fountain outside Dry Creek Middle School is leaking and the principal has charged a fifth grade student with writing a letter requesting a catalog for a new one. So begins the craziness.  The admnistrators want a basic fountain, the students want a grand one and the fountain company, headed by Flo Waters, an artist, wants to create a masterpiece. As tensions rise, the fifth graders begin to deduce that there is more than cost involved in the administrator’s reluctance to replace the fountain. Namely, a coverup, involving something intentionally hidden UNDER the fountain.

Readers will love following the fifith graders as they discover the mystery of the fountain, expose the adults’ corruption and enjoy a satisying conclusion.

Written by Kate Klise

Copyright 1998 (hardcover), 1999 (paperback).

Accelerated reader level 5.8

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Tiny House, Big Family

A determined young girl stars in my latest scout, The House that Lou Built, a debut novel by Mae Respieto. Respieto’s Filipino culture and childhood spent near San Francisco play strongly in her story of Lou, a thirteen-year-old girl living, along with her mother, in her grandmother’s house in San Francisco. Numerous members of Lou’s Filipino family life nearby.  Lou, at times, loves having close cousins and aunts, but at other times, she wonders what it would be like to have more autonomy and be able to have the privacy she sees her friends enjoy. Still, Lou is kept busy planning her dream home, a tiny house she longs to build on her piece of Heaven: some lush, secluded property her grandfather left to her. Lou is laser-focused on her dream. She acquires the skills needed to build, works at a scrap yard and collects items she can use in building and saves money to accomplish her tiny house goal.

Lou’s world is turned upside down when her mother gets offered a job in Seattle and intends to accept. Doubling down on her dream, Lou accelerates her pace of building, hoping the tiny house will change mom’s mind. Complications arise and Lou makes choices that result in deceptions to mom and other family. As the stakes get higher, Lou learns that mom can’t pay the taxes on the property and they will likely lose it. Lou refuses to relent, but it will take the assistance of family to finally perservere.

In a satisfying ending, Lou realizes her dream with the help of family and mom discovers that her dreams are better realized with family in her corner, as well.

FYI: I like to be transparent about content, so there are no surprises and adults have the chance to discuss subject matter.  First, Lou develops a crush and get her first brief kiss.Second, her teacher, mentor and helper is a gay character, although there is little detail other than he lives with his partner.

What I like about this book:

Lou is a great role model. She is comfortable being a young teen who loves tiny houses, building with wood, and embracing her culture by being in a Filipino dance troup. She is independent, strong-willed and dedicated to her goals.

There is a great deal of Filipino culture woven into the tale, from beliefs to cooking to dance, which lends the story more authenticity and gives depth to the characters and their relationships.

Written by Mae Respieto

Copyright 2018

Accelerated Reader Level: No test yet written. Approximate reading level is 5.0

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A Series of Magical Events

As a school librarian, for years I have encouraged young chapter book fantasy readers to jump into a series by E.D. Baker. Released originally in 2002, the first book, The Frog Princess, kept me (an admittedly reluctant fantasy reader) entertained from first page to last. That book was followed up with many more, including Dragon’s Breath, Once Upon a Curse and many more, right up to the 2017 release, Return of the Frog Princess.

Today, I’m highlighting the prequel to The Frog Princess, The Salamander Spell. Grassina is the red-headed younger sister who lacks all the graces of Chartreuse, her lovely, blond, perfect older sister. What’s more,  the oldest daughter inherit the magical abilities in the family. Grassina watches her sister for signs of  blossoming magic, but seeing none, hopes it will skip her sister and be bestowed upon her. The interest of her mother, Queen Oliviene, lies with Chartreuse and Grassina finds herself left out.

However, events cause changes when the queen is inadvertently cursed, turned into a hag and the kingdom placed in danger, Grassina finds herself on a mission to save her land.  Readers who have read other books in the series will find lots of characters better understood after connecting the dots provided in this prequel.

These fantasy tales are  full of magic, potions, spells, quests, and, to be honest,some romance. The engrossing fantasy world that Baker creates, combined with witty characters and humor, will inspire readers to collect each and every gem in the series.

Written by E.D. Baker

Copyright 2002-2018

Accelerated Reader Levels: range approximately 4.8-5.3

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Adventures in the Amazon!

Author Eva Ibbotson, who passed away in 2010, had a way with words. Today’s Flashback Friday selection from 2003 is Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea, In it, Ibbotson creates a multilayered tale that takes readers from England to the Amazon and is peppered with characters from kind to cruel. It’s 1910, and Maia is attending a girl’s academy in England when she gets word that she is no longer an orphan.  An aunt, uncle and their twins have stepped forward as relatives. Excited to have relatives, start a new life and see the Amazon, Maia sets out on a long journey by land and sea with Miss Minton, her governess.  Initially, MIss Minton is rather icy, but eventually Maia and Miss Minton warm to each other and grow close. Upon their arrival in Brazil, life becomes complicated. The Carters, Maia’s new relatives, are horrid people running an unsuccessful rubber plantation who despise the jungle. Maia loves her wild new world, but feels trapped by the Carters. A young actor friend, Clovis, met along her journey and a fellow jungle-loving friend, Finn, play important parts as well in Maia’s adventures.

Ibbotson’s story is enthralling, complex and well written. Readers who love classic tales full of excitement will be drawn into Maia’s journey and the cunning ways she navigates her adventures in the Amazon.

Written by Eva Ibbotson

Copyright 2003

Accelerated Reader Level 5.7

Why I like this book:

It is the kind of book that hooks you and you just have to read one more chapter before you go to sleep.  Maia is relatable and many readers will imagine themselves in South America, excited, scared and brave as is Maia. The word choice, descriptions and adventures are indicative of a classic tale, which I find entertaining and satisfying to read.

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Best Friends = A Better You

We all know adults who are, well, less than mature. We also know kids who sometimes exceed those adults in wisdom. Such is the case in Barbara O’Connor’s new chapter book, Wonderland.

Mavis is a head-strong girl whose mother is chronically discontent, moving them frequently to the next town and the next job that she thinks will finally bring her happiness. Meanwhile, brave Mavis has only one focused desire: to have and be a best friend.

Rose is the introverted daughter in a wealthy family. She has a marginally involved father and an overbearing mother who constantly complains about trivial matters and people who don’t live up to her standards. Chief among her mother’s disappointments is Rose, who silently absorbs her mother’s cutting remarks and retreats when she can stand no more. Rose’s saving grace is Mr. Duffy, the aging gatekeeper of the housing development in which she lives. Together, they laugh, play and genuinely care for one another, yet lately, he has changed. Since the death of his cherished dog, the luster has gone out of life for Mr. Duffy.

Enter a third character, Henry, a retired greyhound whose future is not bright at Wonderland Race Track. He escapes and hides out, fearfully, in the woods behind Magnolia Estates, where Rose lives.

The tale is told in alternating chapters, narrated by Rose, Mavis or Henry.

When Mavis’ mom takes a job as housekeeper for Rose’s family, Mavis instantly decides that Rose will be her best friend. The friendship is rocky at times. The girls must endure the catty behavior of Rose’s mom, the endless discontent of Mavis’ mom in her new job, Amanda, the snobbish neighbor girl all while devising a plan to capture Henry as a new canine companion that they hope will relight the spark in Mr. Duffy.

Not everything turns out as they may have hoped. Still, in the process, friendships, human and canine,  blossom and people grow.  Mavis develops self-discipline; Rose self-assurance and both learn that friendship can foster positive change that spills over to others in your life. A fun read about determination, evolution and the power of friendship.

Written by Barbara O’Connor

Accelerated Reader quiz not yet available

Copyright 2018

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England, Africa, the Flu and Felines….a Classic Adventure!

Back in 2005, Gloria Whelan wrote Listening for Lions, this week’s Flashback Friday feature. It is a tale reminiscent of many classics, with an enthralling story line, settings worthy of a painting and characters deeply ensconced in their desires, whether good or evil. Living in East Africa in 1919, Rachel is but 13 when her parents, missionaries, die of influenza, as does Valerie Pritchard, their neighbor’s daughter. Rachel dearly loves Africa and has no desire to leave. Finding herself in the care of the Pritchards, Rachel feels desperate. As the plot thickens, the Pritchards devise an immoral, if not downright evil, plan. Since they have burned their bridges with the wealthy grandfather of their family, they planned to send Valerie to live with this patriarch in failing health, win him over and have them reinstated in his will. With the death of Valerie, their revised plan becomes to send Rachel, also a redhead, in her place, tricking grandfather in an attempt to still accomplish their greedy goal.  Rachel wants to refuse, but relents, traveling to England and forming a strong bond with their frail grandfather despite the deception.

Scene descriptions bring the settings to life and readers will feel for the predicament in which Rachel has found herself.  Will good win over evil? Will Rachel return to Africa? If you’ve read The Secret Garden and similar classics, give this story a go and you will once again experience the satisfaction of a good story, well told.

Written by Gloria Whelan

Copyright 2005

Accelerated Reader Level 5.7

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