Magic, Fun and Imagination for CYRM Intermediate Novels

August 1, 2016 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews, Libraries, libraries | By

The novels nominated for the Intermediate California Young Reader Medal this year will bring your 3rd through 6th graders plenty of what they love: fun, magic and imagination. As always, readers must read all novels nominated in a category to be eligible to vote. Here is a quick summary of each novel in the Intermediate category.

Chock-full of puzzles, Escape from Mr Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein is very popular with 2nd – 5th grade readers, who love to solve the puzzles along with the characters. The Public Library in Alexandriaville had been closed for 11 years. Mr. Lemoncello, world-famous game-maker and public library supporter, set out to right this wrong by holding an extravagant party/contest for 12 twelve-year olds to celebrate the opening of the brand new state of-the-art public library. This book details that contest by following the stories of a couple of those contestants. Librarians, like me, will enjoy the many references to children’s literature and the Dewey Decimal classification system. This book begs for group projects like create a game and the website mentioned in the back of the book has extensions galore.

The other two books nominated are both fantasies. Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy is the more adventurous of the two. Oscar knows he’s different but he doesn’t know why. He understands cats, but not people. The magician’s apprentice tells Oscar he’s useless; worthless. When something unknown attacks the village and the magician is gone, Oscar wonders if he can possibly help – and how. Ursu’s robust fantasy will have readers questioning the role of magic in fairy tales and in their own lives. This is good for fantasy and fairy tale readers 4th grade and up. I have a free Story Sheet called Sensing Magic which examines Ursu’s use of sensory words to convey Oscar’s changing attitude toward magic and challenges students to begin a magical story.

Liesl Shurtliff’s Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin is the most humorous of the three novels. This is a must-read for middle grade fairy-tale lovers and has just enough humor to attract those less inclined to read. Rump paints a sympathetic and believable backstory for a character whose motivation has never been clear: Rumpelstiltskin. Shurtliff’s unnamed fantasy-land (for names are important) is whimsical enough that readers will want to stay just to find out what quirky creature might appear next. The Story Sheet Back Together Again helps students deconstruct how Shurtliff re-told Rumpelstiltskin and challenges them to de-construct and re-tell Humpty Dumpty in a new way.

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Great new adventure fantasy

July 7, 2015 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews, libraries | By

Need an adventure/fantasy for 8 years and older? Like Narnia, and other great tales in this genre, Wildwood by Colin Meloy allows readers to wonder about the foundations of our society by setting up an entirely new one just outside our own. At the outset of the story, Prue’s baby brother is abducted by crows and taken to Wildwood, just across the Willamette River from Portland. Prue – and her friend Curtis ­– become embroiled in the machinations of politics and power in Wildwood when all she really wants to do is retrieve her baby brother.

There is much that I love about Wildwood: the moderate pacing, the varied point-of-view, the fair-enough handling of the parents, and mostly the main character Prue. I love Prue’s journey to get her brother back, and everything she learns and does along the way. Meloy deals with the themes of justice, peace and non-violence adeptly and still manages to keep the story entertaining.

This is a well-crafted story, one I would be pleased to read to a classroom full of fourth graders, or my to own family



  • Title: Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles Book 1
  • Author : Meloy, Colin
  • Illustrator: Ellis, Carson.
  • Copyright: 2011 Unadoptable Books LLC
  • ISBN: 978-0-06-202468-8
  • Dewey Decimal Number: Fic Mel
  • Reading Range: 6.3


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Imagine This. A Friend.

June 24, 2015 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews, teaching, writing | By


Imagine this. A friend.


Beekle gets tired of waiting to be imagined, and sets off on a journey through the real world to find his friend.


What is so magical about this book is the interplay between the real and the fantastical. The combination of both elements in such close proximity makes us believe anything is possible. Beekle is a spectacular creature, yet he is wearing a crown held together with Scotch tape. Heck, I could make that crown.


Maybe I could have a friend like Beekle.


And that, right there, is the magic in this book. It is filled with everyday magic that could give even those of us in our saddest and loneliest moment a glimmer of hope.


Dan Santat assumes that we have spectacular imaginations, like the kids in the story. Just check out the endpapers if you need more evidence of miraculous friends.


Children do have imaginations like this – all they need is a little time, encouragement and inspiration. I’m so thankful Santat has provided us some inspiration in The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend and glad he has a Caldecott Award to show for it.


If you’d like a CCSS aligned worksheet for first and second graders to get started on a story about an unimaginary friendship of their own, try this free download: Unimaginary Friend Story Sheet.


Title The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend

  • Author Dan Santat
  • Illustrator Dan Santat
  • Copyright 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-316-19998-8
  • Dewey Decimal Number PB San
  • Reading Range K-3 (3.3)
  • Book cover image

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A Christmas Voodoo Story

November 15, 2012 | Posted in Blog: Story Stories, Book Reviews | By

The holidays seem created to cause conflict. Families gather. Beliefs differ, but cannot be concealed. Time, resources, and patience are limited. It’s enough to tempt anyone to make a small, wax figurine of a powerful family figure, just to have it go along with the holiday plans.

That’s precisely what six-year-old Toad does in Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians by Mary Nash. And, who can blame the boy for trying voodoo? Miss Eva was planning to make eggplant and rutabaga for dinner. His beloved Mrs. Coverlet, who had just left for a national baking competition, would never feed him such outlandish vegetables.

I read this book at the recommendation of Deborah Underwood, author of The Christmas Quiet Book. She re-reads the book – a treasured one from her childhood – each Christmas, maybe not for the voodoo per se.

Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians deals with belief in many forms. The youngest brother believes in just about everything: the power of the magic kit he bought from the horror comic and Santa. Malcolm, the oldest brother, is more skeptical, not even believing that Mrs. Coverlet’s recipe could win a contest.

This clash of beliefs is a situation set for conflict, as are most family holidays. But, in Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians, the kids end up helping each other. Underwood says:

I respond to the love they all have for each other. The kids’ willingness to endure Miss Eva for the sake of Mrs. Coverlet’s big chance, Malcolm and Molly’s determination to have a normal Christmas for their little brother, and even Miss Dextrose-Chesapeake’s outrage at Mrs. Coverlet’s plight and her willingness to intervene–these things truly exemplify the Christmas spirit for me.

Of course, the Toad’s way of helping resembles voodoo. He makes a wax figurine of Miss Eva and puts it to bed. He uses a wand to find a Christmas tree and casts spells each night so that it will snow on Christmas.

These actions concern Malcolm – Underwood most identifies with him – and his “troublesome conscience.” Malcolm takes care of everything. He burns the horror comic they weren’t allowed to read, buys gifts for his brother and sister, and undoes the voodoo doll. Then Malcolm speaks to the Reverend, their neighbor, about what it all means. Underwood points out:

I adored that Reverend Forthright was perfectly willing to accept all the strange happenings as Christmas magic, and that he told Malcolm to enjoy the mystery of it all rather than fret about it.

Not many books deal so directly with a variety of beliefs and the doubts that naturally accompany belief. Malcolm’s confession to Reverend Forthright leads to clarity. Reverend Forthright says:

“I believe in magic at Christmas…the amount of good will which is set loose every year at this time is quite unaccountable. Take your spruce! I don’t care how the Toad found it! What good were his spells and his wand if Mr. Bouncer hadn’t let you keep it, even helped you home with it!…Let the Toad think he conjured up Christmas single-handed. You and I know how many people contributed.”

Malcolm’s fears are calmed and he can enjoy his little brother at the end of the book. Dialogue and conflict about faith and life can help readers discern their own beliefs. Despite their significant differences, the characters in Mrs. Coverlet’s Magicians ultimately help each other. Underwood reflects on the theme of the book:

I did and still do believe in Christmas magic, although possibly more in the Reverend Forthright sense than in the magic-kit-ordered-from-horror-comic sense.

There are no wax figures in Underwood’s newest book, The Christmas Quiet Book. But there are characters overcoming some differences, and sticking together during tense holiday times. Perhaps that is the real Christmas voodoo.

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