Three for Middle-Grade Readers

I loved this sequel about the amazing Stuart Horten and his uncle’s even more amazing magical illusions. Horten’s Incredible Illusions takes up where the first one left off. Stuart has found his uncle’s famous illusions but now needs to find his uncle’s will to prove that they truly are his to keep. April, the triplet from next door, returns to help Stuart on his quest (along with her sisters May and June). Sequels aren’t always as good as the first in a series, but I enjoyed this one even more than Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms. The puzzles that Stuart has to solve are more complex and the adventures are more exciting. There is also more character development in the evolving relationship between him and the triplets. I finally got John to read the first Horten book and he liked it. He liked this one even more.

I have fast become a huge fan of Gary Schmidt. I read Okay for Now  last month and loved it. This month I read What Came From the Stars and also loved it. I’m not sure I’ve read another book quite like this one. On a distant planet the Valorim have fallen to the evil Lord Mondus. Before their fall they are able to forge a necklace which holds their precious Art (a combination of language, culture, power and creativity) and send it into the universe. The necklace lands in the lunchbox of Tommy Pepper, a sixth grader living in Plymouth, MA. Tommy has his own set of problems. His family is grieving the recent death of his mother and fighting with a local realtor over the potential loss of their home. The necklace both changes his life in wonderful ways and brings incredible danger to his family and community as the evil Lord Mondus searches for it. I loved the story and that Schmidt so seamlessly weaves the science fiction storyline into the very realistic world of middle school.

Nancy Yi Fan was 11 years old when she wrote Swordbird. That in itself is quite an accomplishment. For an 11 year old author it’s an excellent book. Unfortunately, that’s the best I can say. The plot is a fairly typical fantasy storyline. Set in a world of anthropomorphic birds whose world is invaded by an evil hawk lord, it involves two tribes of birds fighting back against the invaders while searching for the mythical Swordbird who legend has it will come when needed. As my nine year old pointed out several times, it’s pretty much Redwall redux. Added to that, the writing is often clunky and the characters are two-dimensional.

I will say my boys enjoyed the book well enough. There are two more books in this series but I wouldn’t have a lot of desire to read them except that Sherry from Semicolon gave a very positive review to the third book in the series, Sword Mountain. On a side note, we all really loved the beautifully illustrated drawings of birds by Mark Zug throughout Swordbird.

Horten’s Incredible Illusions and What Came From the Stars have both been nominated for a Cybil in the Middle Grade Fantasy and Science Fiction Category. The third book in the Swordbird series, Sword Mountain was also nominated.

9 thoughts on “Three for Middle-Grade Readers

  1. After reading this, I mentioned Swordbird to my 11-year-old. Yesterday we picked up a library copy, and she’s read 7 chapters. 🙂 The idea of a novel written by a peer, about birds of all things, is irresistible, it seems! I appreciate the review.

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