Tag Archives: Blue Balliett

Armchair BEA: Exploring Middle-Grade Novels

ArmchairBEAI’ve never stopped loving children’s books, and have reread my childhood favourites many many times despite having become an adult many many years ago (lots of many’s there!).

Whenever I’m in the library, I always like to include the children’s section in my meanderings through the shelves, and always find at least a handful of middle-grade books to take home with me.

This Armchair BEA topic got me thinking about some of my recent favourites, the middle-grade novels I didn’t grow up with, the ones I discovered when I was already all grown up. And I also realize I’d like to explore the middle-grade range more than I have been – not just being content with whatever I might stumble upon when I have a chance to browse at the library (although that makes me quite contented!) but also searching out the latest middle-grade books, following more middle-grade book bloggers and reading more than just the most recent award winners.

I’ve only just embarked on this new exploration, and expect many delightful finds to come as a result, so my choices below aren’t particularly recent books, although none of them go as far back as my own childhood.

Mysteries

I love a good mystery, and as an adult reading middle-grade novels, it’s not that easy to find a really good middle-grade mystery. Unlike adult mysteries, middle-grade mysteries don’t tackle murder that often. As you expand out into the young adult book world, this changes, but generally speaking the middle-grade mysteries I’ve read have been mostly about robberies, burglaries, and bad guys up to no-good schemes involving burglary and robbery.

A good middle-grade author can, however, take these themes and make them as exciting as the latest Harry Hole mystery by Jo Nesbo. Yes, without any serial killers or deranged murderers. My favourites include the Herculeah Jones mysteries by Betsy Byars and Blue Balliett’s art-themed mysteries (I rave about Balliett’s The Calder Game here.)

Dead Letter

Calder Game

Fantasies

When it comes to fantasies, the middle-grade range continues to offer a fabulous selection. This was true when I was growing up, and the whole fantasy area has exploded since then, with many thanks to JK Rowling and Harry Potter. Two recent favourites of mine are Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Jinx by Sage Blackwood (I reviewed Jinx here). Book 2 of the Jinx series, Jinx’s Magic came out earlier this year, and it’s definitely on my to-read list.

Graveyard Book

Jinx Sage Blackwood

These are my two favourite genres in general, so it’s no surprise I tend to be drawn to middle-grade novels in these genres as well. I am, however, currently reading Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen, a contemporary middle-grade, and I’m enjoying it (it’s on my son’s upcoming Battle of the Books list, and we’re reading it together. It’s not really the type of book I should be reading with my eleven-year-old son, but we’re having fun with it.)

What about you? Do you read a lot of middle-grade novels? Have any must-read titles to recommend to me? I’m looking to add to my middle-grade to-read list, so any help would be appreciated!

Allergies, Lots of Reading, and Finishing a DNF

tissuebox4c After looking forward to The Word on the Street all week, we all ended up missing the entire event. On Saturday, with the colder weather and the rain, allergies began hitting us – not the tiny-sniffle type of allergies, but full blown sinus-pressure, drippy nose (you wanted to hear that one, didn’t you?), cough and non-stop sneezing type of allergies.

My older son, who, ironically, seems to have constant low-grade hayfever during late summer and early fall, was the only one who remained unaffected.

By the time Sunday rolled around, all my husband and I wanted to do was lie on the sofa with hot lemon tea and a box of tissues each.

The good news, though (I do love that there’s always good news): I ended up finishing up three books over the weekend, all of which I really enjoyed. Add to these books the handful of books I read earlier in September that I also enjoyed, and I can definitely say September turned out to be quite a good month for me, reading-wise.

I’ll be writing up reviews for most of this week, so stay tuned.

The Mystery of the Third LucretiaThere’s one book that I started a couple of weeks ago that I haven’t been feeling like picking up again to finish. It’s The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, by Susan Runholt. I thought it would be a did-not-finish for me, because I haven’t been able to really get back into it.

I can’t think of any reason why I’m not that interested in it, though, after reading about two-thirds of it already: it’s a well-written novel, with a fun and smart teenage protagonist and what looks to be quite a clever mystery. The author does have a tendency to overuse the gothic “if I’d only known” foreshadowing device (it’s a personal thing with me – I tend to think that even once is too often – and she doesn’t use those exact words, but there’s a lot of “as it turns out, this was a really bad decision, but we didn’t know it at the time”), but I’ve overlooked it in other books easily enough; I don’t like “if I’d only known”, but it’s not enough to make me stop reading a book.

I am so enamored of Blue Balliett’s middle grade art mystery series (I wrote a couple of reviews back when I first started MsBookish – I raved about The Calder Game here and enthused about The Wright 3 here); The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, another art mystery but with teen protagonists, is really a natural read for me.

Since I can’t put my finger on anything about the book that’s putting me off, I’ve decided to finish it tonight. I’ve already read so much of it, after all. Plus, it’s gotten so many good reviews, and I’m pretty sure I added it to my TBR because I’d seen a good review of it in one of the book blogs I follow.

On the theory that, for once, I’d hate to miss out because of my reading mood, I figure I might as well give it another go.

Have you ever done this – thought that a book was a DNF for you, but decided after a while to pick it up again and finish it anyway? It rarely happens to me, but then again, I don’t often read that far into a book before thinking, this one isn’t for me.

Review: The Calder Game, by Blue Balliett

Synopsis:

Two Calders are missing. One is a sculpture. One is a boy.

When Calder Pillay travels with his father in a remote village in England, he finds a mix of mazes and mystery … including an unexpected Alexander Calder sculpture in the town square. Calder is strangely drawn to the sculpture, while other people have less-than-friendly feelings toward it. Both the boy and the sculpture seem to be out of place … and then, n the same night, they disappear!

Calder’s friends Petra and Tommy must fly to England to help his father find him. But this mystery has more twists and turns than a Calder mobile caught in a fierce wind … with more at stake than first meets the eye.

Ms. Bookish’s Quick Take: The Calder Game is book 3 in the art mystery series by Blue Balliett. And now that I’ve read it, I’d have to say it’s the best of the three. Which is quite something, because I thought both Chasing Vermeer, and The Wright 3 were very good books. The Calder Game does require that you suspend your credibility a bit when it comes to getting Petra and Tommy from Chicago to Woodstock, England, but once you get beyond that, it is a wonderfully written novel that will inspire any creative, talented child (which means, all children, really) to look at the world a little bit differently. And as with the other two books in the series, Brett Helquist’s illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to the story.
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Review: The Wright 3, by Blue Balliett

Ms. Bookish’s Quick Take: The Wright 3 is a wonderful sequel to Balliet’s award-winning Chasing Vermeer. An elegant and literary mystery, The Wright 3 follows Petra and Calder, and Calder’s old friend Tommy as they become deeply immersed in the mystery of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. The three are drawn into an intricate world of codes and talismans, all somehow intertwined with the Invisible Man. This is a book that treats kids as the thinking, intelligent people they are; it makes for a wonderful read for both children and adults alike. Definitely one to add to your to-read list, or to buy for that child in your life who loves mysteries. See below for the full review.

From the jacket flap:

In this intricate, magnificently imagined sequel to Blue Balliett’s international bestseller, Chasing Vermeer, supersleuths Petra and Calder, along with Calder’s old friend, Tommy, are cryptically drawn into another art mystery – this time involving a Frank Lloyd Wright architectural masterpiece, the Robie House.

When the kids’ sixth-grade class attempts to save the Hyde Park landmark from demolition, eerie events are reported: Voices float out from within, shadows shift behind the art-glass windows, even the roof moves – like a waking beast! Suddenly, a well-meaning art restoratin project turns into a frightening search for ghosts, hidden treasure, and a coded message left behind by Wright. In this tangled web where life and art intermingle with death and danger, can the kids puruse justice and escape with their lives?

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