October is Meant for Magic (chapter books, that is!)

As soon as the first few leaves spiral down from the trees, pumpkins appear on porches and costumes arrive in stores,  I start to get a hankering for chapter books in the fantasy realm. The one I recently scouted, Upside Down Magic, combines the struggles of a girl, Nory, with starting school and fitting in. So what’s magical? Pretty much everything. Nory’s father can make things invisible, her sister can direct the actions of animals and her brother can conjure fire. Nory has powers, too. Problem is, as a Fluxer, she should be able to transform herself into an animal at will. Sadly, those abilities seem to short circuit more often than not and Nory ends up changing into two animals at once. This off-kilter magic lands Nory in the Dunwiddle Magic School, specifically, the Upside-down Magic Class. Nory, finding the class full of kids with oddball powers, only wants her magic and her life to be normal. Attempts to manage her situation result in engrossing adventures and Nory learning life lessons about herself and others.

The story, a collaboration of three expert authors, is wonderfully penned. The characters of varying cultures and the challenges of Nory and her classmates are artfully woven to make a story with wide appeal. Readers in grades 3-5 who love fantasy as well as those who fancy stories with strong-willed main characters will want to dive into this book like a dog into a pile of leaves. This book is the first in a series.

Written by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle and Emily Jenkins

Accelerated Reader Level ranges from 3.7-4.2

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A poignant tale of the perils of plants and people

Katherine Applegate is an amazing writer, having produced picture books, intermediate-level books and young adult books. Her characters have included a gorilla, an imaginary cat and now…..a tree! Who knew that a tree, an oak named Red, who can neither talk to humans nor physically move, could be the main character of a book for 4th-6th grade readers? Yet, indeed, this old oak tells a powerful story about problems, both human and plant, and how kindness is the answer to them both. Red’s spent 200 plus years rooted near the elementary school, watching over the neighborhood and it’s residents while graciously providing a home for the area’s small animals. Red’s closest friend, Bongo, a bird, nests in his branches and adds a sometimes snarky perspective in contrast to Red’s philosophical ways. Each May, residents write a wish on a piece of cloth and tie it to Red’s branches. Over time, Red becomes known as the Wishtree. Red has seen human’s wishes come true, but has also witnessed the cruel treatment of newcomers to America who’ve settled in the neighborhood. These acts of prejudice started decades earlier when an Irish immigrant girl was the target of the spiteful behavior of others. Unfortunately, they continued to the present with the word “leave”  carved in Red’s bark as a threatening message to Samar, a Muslim immigrant girl. The story intensifies as Red and Bongo concoct a plan to help Samar. Additionally, the friends must deal with the reality that Red’s roots, which have enabled growth and strength, are now interfering with the plumbing on a neighborhood woman’s property. As a result, she intends to cut Red down. The resolution of plant and human problems is satisfying and, by books’ end, having the tale told by a tree makes uniquely perfect sense.

Wishtree is written in short chapters and is Accelerated Reader level 4.2

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