I've been reading a lot the past few months -- as usual an assortment of adult and children's books, fiction and nonfiction. If you're looking for some reading suggestions for kids this summer, here are a few great ones I've come across:
The Iron Trial, by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black. Middle
Callum Hunt does not
want to be a magician. All his life, his father has warned him about the
dangers of magic, and the sinister ways of the mages who teach youngsters to
use their powers in the underground world of the Magisterium. When Callum comes
of age and must take his entrance exam for the Magisterium, he tries his
hardest to fail. But he fails to fail. He is chosen to train with Master Rufus,
the most prestigious mage in the Magisterium. Callum (Call) is ripped away from
his normal life in Carolina, separated from his father, and plunged into a
subterranean world his father has said would be worse than death.
The Iron Trial is a hugely fun, inventive spin on the middle
grade fantasy novel. Yes, the parallels to Harry Potter are obvious, but as I
see it that’s sort of the point. Clare and Black take those patterns and
expectations and deliberately turn them upside-down. Callum doesn’t want to be
a magician. He wants to fail at
magic. His experience is not like Hogwarts. It’s alternately boring (sorting
piles of sand, anyone?) and terrifying (the elementals are awesome creations),
and Call can’t be sure who to trust – even his parents. His mother’s dying
words: Kill the Child, apparently
meaning her own infant son. And his father . . . has he been protecting Call all
these years, or lying to him? Is Master Rufus a friend or enemy? Will Callum
ever be allowed to leave his new home?
I liked Call a lot. His leg was badly broken when he was a
baby, and his trouble walking informs his character. It’s especially poignant when
he wonders if he can learn to fly as a magician, thus making him more mobile.
He is mistrustful but empathetic, capable and yet deeply flawed. I also liked
the cast of supporting characters. His fellow apprentices are great, especially
Tamara. The magic system is inventive and logical. The world-building is
fantastic. The Iron Trial sets up the game board for the rest of the series,
which promises to be great – and after that huge, massive twist at the end (no
spoilers, but oh boy!) how can you not want to read on?
The Copper Gauntlet, by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black.
Middle grade fantasy.
Okay, this is cheating, since the book doesn't actually come out until September 1, but I was lucky enough to get an early copy, and I can
assure you this sequel is even stronger than The Iron Trial. It’s hard to
review without giving spoilers for the first book, but let’s just say Callum
Hunt has a lot to think about. Some of the things he’s found out about himself,
his family and the Magisterium have left him reeling. Even the companionship of
his new “pet” wolf Havoc (a fabulous character) can’t console him as he
prepares for his second year at the Magisterium. Call’s relationship with his
father is strained to say the least. His friends at the Magisterium seem to
accept him, but can they really? Call is afraid he is a danger to himself and
anyone who gets close to him. Once back at the Magisterium, Callum and his
friends face a new dilemma – the theft of a copper gauntlet called the Alkhahest,
which in the wrong hands could destroy the Magisterium’s power. The Copper
Gauntlet is full of twists and turns, surprises and wonders. Callum comes
closer to learning to truth about himself, and makes powerful enemies along the
way. If you liked The Iron Trial, you will love
The Copper Gauntlet. I can’t wait to read more of this series.
Masterminds, by Gordon Korman. Middle grade adventure. As
usual, Gordon Korman delivers a fast-paced, well-crafted adventure full of
creative twists and surprises. Eli lives in Serenity, New Mexico, which is so perfect it seems too good to be true.
Everybody has a nice house. The schools are great. There is zero crime and zero
unemployment. Eli has never left his hometown, but one day he discovers
something that shakes his world. Serenity is not what it seems. He and his
friends can’t trust anyone – not their neighbors, definitely not their parents.
This perfect little world hides a dark secret linked to some of the world’s
most infamous criminal masterminds. Hooked yet? You should be! This is a
perfect summer read for mystery and adventure lovers.