Lockwood and Co – The Screaming Staircase
By Jonathan Stroud.
Students often ask me for books that are creepy and a little bit scary, and well-written books in this genre are hard to find for young readers. Recently I read Lockwood and Co. – The Screaming Staircase, and I was thrilled to have another great suspenseful, supernatural book to recommend to middle school readers. The novel takes place in an alternate modern day version of London, where for more than 50 years, England has been affected by an epidemic of ghosts. As a result, a large number o f Psychic Investigation Agencies have been created to help eradicate the dangerous spirits. Children and teens make the best ghost hunters and most agencies are run and supervised by adults. Lockwood & Co, though, is an agency run only by teens. Lucy Carlyle flees to London after a horrible accident in her home village and joins the small agency, Lockwood & Co., headed by the young and slightly reckless Anthony Lockwood. Soon they are caught up in a mystery that may result in the loss of their agency and possibly their lives. This story, full of ancient evil, unsolved murders and powerful apparitions, which will keep students captivated and a little bit scared. This well-crafted novel with engaging characters is a great book to recommend to students Grade 6 and up.
Note this is the first book in a new series by Jonathon Stroud. The second book The Whispering Skull was released September 2014.
The Night Gardener
By Jonathan Auxier
Set in the 1800’s, The Night Gardener is a thrilling adventure with just the right amount of spooky! Two orphan siblings leave behind a dying land, Ireland during the potato famine, to become servants at a crumbling mansion with an evil reputation and a black tree growing through the walls. They quickly learn that there is something quite off about the family they have come to work for. Everyone seems to be getting a gift from the tree, but at what cost to each individual in the story. What is the real price of living in the cursed house?
Students are often looking for scary stories and The Night Gardener does not disappoint, it is creepy and atmospheric. This book is appropriate for Middle Grade readers who enjoy a bit of scare. It may start out a bit slow for some students but it builds well and the story is well told. The characters are well-developed and all struggle with deep moral questions. Auxier weaves a perfect tale, slowly revealing pieces of the mystery and then bringing them perfectly together in the end.
It is a great addition to any classroom library Grade 5 and up. The Night Gardener would be a great read-aloud, where middle grade students are encouraged to sketch the perfectly described world into reality. It would also work very well in literature circles.
The Blackthorn Key
Set in London 1665, and a world of orphaned children, apothecaries and secret alchemists, this is a perfect page-turner for middle school students. The main character has codes to crack, secret doors to open, and vast conspiracies to foil. Kevin Sands writes a well-rounded book that includes mystery, suspenseful action, history, science and exceptional friendships. The hero in the novel is Christopher Rowe, an orphan who is apprenticed as an apothecary to Master Benedict Blackthorn. Master Benedict is a compassionate father figure and mentor to the young boy, who eagerly learns everything he can about potions, puzzles, codes, and books. Christopher’s sidekick and best friend is Tom, the baker’s son, who is a willing participant in Christopher’s adventures and experiments. The friendship between the boys is well written and enduring. When a mysterious and dangerous cult begins to murder the city’s apothecaries, including Christopher’s master. Armed with the knowledge he has gained from his master,
Christopher sets out to get to solve the greatest mystery of all. This book is full of page turning action, with twists and turns along the way. This is one of the few historical fiction books I have read that stay so accurate to the historical time period while being entertaining and enthralling. I would recommend this for students in Grade 6 and up. It would be a wonderful book to add to literature circles with any of the following themes: Friendship; Mystery; Historical Fiction; Suspense.
The Wrap-Up List
Written by Steven Arntson
Like many teachers, I am constantly looking for age appropriate novels that will engage middle-school aged students right from the start. The Wrap-Up List is an excellent book with a diverse set of characters that will appeal to students who are fans of romance, mystery and/or the supernatural.
The main character, 16-year-old Gabriela Riviera receives a red envelope from a Death, a magical type creature that helps you depart to the afterlife, giving her a week to put her affairs in order and try to earn a Pardon. After receiving her letter from her Death, she compiles her ‘Wrap-Up List’ which incudes a first kiss for herself and three of her best friends. The book is ultimately about identity, acceptance and belonging, important topics that resonate with preteen and teen readers. These topics are effortlessly woven into a wonderful story full of suspense friendship, and love. This book is recommended for students Grade 6 and up.
By R.J. Palacio
Wonder is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It is well written from the point of view of a variety of interesting characters. The central character is an unlikely hero and protagonist, Auggie, a ten-year-old boy who has a severe facial deformity that stops strangers in their tracks. Middle school is a world where even your average pre-teen struggles to feel like they belong, and August teaches us that even with the cards stacked against you, your spirit can triumph. Without spoiling the books, I can confidently state, that this book I think all students and teachers should take time to read. It is a wonderful life lesson about kindness, compassion and human connection. We all have an inner strength that we should draw on to stand up for what we believe in, and Auggie stands as a great inspiration for all students and adults to learn from.
This book is a wonderful addition for classrooms grade 4 and up.
By Holly Black
Three friends, Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been friend for many years, and the three of them have enjoyed playing with their toys, imagining a magical world full of adventure. Now in middle school, Zach’s father throws out all his toys and declares that Zach is too old for them and needs to stop playing foolish, childish games. Zach decides to quit the game and stop being friend with the girls without telling them why. Desperate to keep the friendship together and the game going, Polly drags the others into a quest. She convinces them that they need to return the haunted china doll, which Polly claims is made from ground-up bones of a murdered girl, to where the girl lived, and bury it. As the adventure begins, the children begin to wonder if Polly’s unbelievable tale could possibly be true. This charming story address how confusing and scary it is to grow up and how our relationships and the way we play changes with age. It is a wonderful book full of fun and suspense and is sure to engage the most reluctant of readers. Recommended for Grade 5 and Up
By Mahtab Narsimhan
The Tiffin is a great novel for students between 9 and 13. The story takes place in modern-day Mumbai and follows the story of a 12-year-old boy named Kunal. Kunal’s story is crafted around the dabbawallas, deliverymen who run hot-boxed lunches called tiffins to office workers all over the city. Kunal story begins when his mother places a note to her beloved into his tiffin, and the tiffin is misplaced resulting in Kunal being raised by a cruel foster father, Mr. Seth. Thirteen years later, after Kunal discovers why his mother left him, and he is determined to track her and his father down. With the help of an old dabbawalla, Vinayak, Kunal make many discoveries about himself and the true meaning of family.
The book is a fantastic read and beautifully written. The sensory details are phenomenal, while reading, you are transported to India, surrounded by the smell of spices cooking in the street and the sensation of clothing sticking to the skin in the muggy heat. The relationships are complex and emotions run high! The city of Mumbai is a key character, giving students insight into a city and culture that may seem otherworldly to them, but is very much grounded in reality.
Written by a Canadian author, The Tiffin is worth adding to literature circles, using as a read aloud or recommending for student enjoyment.
Adina Rishe Gewirtz
Eleven-year-old Annie and her brother Rew live with their mentally unstable Gran. To get by, Annie has learned how to lie to her social worker, and manage the household affairs. Annie and Rew enjoy spending their days under the birch and oak trees of the Zebra forest, where the use their imagination to tell stories about their father who was murdered by an angry man.
All of their lives change, when one night an escapee from the local prison arrives at their home and the three of them end up held hostage by the most ironic of captors. The lies of Annie’s Gran are unraveled in an emotional tale where Rew and Annie learn the truth about their past and their father. The hostage situation is beautifully framed with a historical event – the Iranian hostage crisis, and a fictional one – Treasure Island, a favourite story of the young protagonists. The forest, with its shades of gray, perfectly reflects the shades of gray that exist within each truth the family is presented with.
Annie and Rew are resilient, resourceful characters that are faced with some really tough moral and emotional questions. The author allows young readers to reflect on the parts of them that are their parents, who they are, why they are who they are, and the forgiveness we need from others for the parts of us that are not perfect.
This book is a wonderful addition to reading lists from grades 4 and up.
What happens when Earth has depleted all of its resources and only one company own the only source of ore left? A smart, suspenseful, action filled science fiction thriller from Kevin Sylvester.
When MiNRs opens, Christopher appears to be a typical kid, going to school in a mining town. However, this is a far from typical mining town, because this ‘town’ is a small space colony on an asteroid named “Perses.” At one point, Perses was on a collision course with Earth; however, a scientist named Hans Melming was able to use rockets and gravity to propel it into a habitable part of orbit. He then set up a colony so that people could mine the ore on the asteroid; soon this asteroid becomes the only source of ore left. With Earth’s resources depleted, the members of the colony seem unaware of the target on their back.
The inhabitants of Perses are busy preparing a black out caused by solar interference, meaning that for a month, their communications with Earth will be knocked out. Blackouts mean no protection and no warnings, and within minutes of the blackout, their worst fears are realized as ‘Landers’, and unknown group from Earth, attack, with the intention of stealing the ore. They bomb the facility and the adults are killed, leaving only a few children able to seek shelter underground in the tunnels of the mine. Christopher immediately goes into survival mode, utilizing his strong mathematical and scientific skills; he makes plans to help his fellow survivors. His parents had backup plan if something went wrong during a blackout; unfortunately that plan is in code. Christopher, his best friend Elena and the other children must survive below the surface, thwart their attackers, and decipher the code to figure out the map to find the beacon just to have a chance for survival.
A great science fiction novel that leads us to speculate what the world would be like in a different setting. This is a great book where we see the naïve protagonist slowly realized that the status quo that he has accepted is flawed. Christopher is not only dealing with the immediate physical threat, but also force to think critically about the political and social issues of how the asteroid colony was formed, governed and maintained by the adult. The children in the novel need to deal with the aftershock seeing family members blown up by bombs, and the reactions of the different characters to the shock of the events is carefully crafted, creating a great starting point for discussion on how individuals have differing responses to the same trauma.
This quest for survival in a unique setting with unexpected plot twists is a great novel to get students hooked on Science Fiction novels. It would be a great read aloud while studying natural resources. It would also be a great addition to literature circles. Bonus – Kevin Sylvester is a Canadian author. Double bonus – there is a cliffhanger – hopefully enticing students into reading more!
This book is recommended for grades 4 and up.