THE HAUNTING OF FALCON HOUSE

A “found” Russian manuscript recounts a late-19th-century haunting.

Prince Lev Lvov is apprehensive about leaving his beloved mother when he is summoned to St. Petersburg to take up his aristocratic responsibilities in the impossibly cavernous Falcon House. Upon arriving, the dreamy, artistic 12-year-old meets his termagant aunt and an odd assemblage of servants, all of whom remark on Lev’s resemblance to his dead grandfather—in whose creepy study his aunt insists he sleep. Lev is unsettled to discover his hand possessed when he sits down to draw to comfort himself. Those drawings, smudged and torn, provide eerie accompaniment to the text. The mysterious young Vanyousha offers Lev companionship but provokes more questions. Adding a further layer of weirdness, Yelchin positions the story in a “translator’s note” as a document he found as a child. The story is both simple—a ghost story—and as complex as the country it rises from, offering glimpses of Russia’s unique and brutal history in its examination of the institution of serfdom, just recently abolished in Lev’s time, and its exploration of the role of art as a vehicle for liberation. Middle graders unfamiliar with that history will be intrigued by the ghost story and the compelling setting, and explanatory notes both provide context and help to prepare them for such books as Candace Fleming’s The Family Romanov (2014) and M.T. Anderson’s Symphony for the City of the Dead (2015) later on.

Eerie and effective. (Historical fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9845-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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