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Strange and magical middle-grade

What’s summer without a vacation from the norm? These fantasy and sci-fi novels for intermediate and middle-school readers are anything but ordinary.

You’d think it would be hard to forget a weird, green, diminutive creature dressed in a chicken costume, but Livy has since her last visit to her grandmother’s in Australia five years ago. After she rediscovers the creature — Bob — hiding in a closet, Livy vows to help him figure out who he is and how she forgot him in the first place. Alternating chapters between Livy’s and Bob’s first-person perspectives, Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead‘s collaboration Bob is filled with warmth and humor. Nicholas Gannon’s occasional interspersed illustrations, monochromatic and golden-brown, provide an old-timey feel. (Feiwel, 7–10 years)

Eleven-year-old Spindrift, star of Emma Trevayne’s Spindrift and the Orchid, discovers that a crystal ball in her possession contains an orchid that blooms into a wish-granting sage named Eleanor, one of seven sages of the city of Lux. Spindrift’s mother died trying to locate the six other orchids — and the girl learns that a menacing stranger will stop at nothing to complete that same mission. Spindrift struggles to cling to safety, family, and good sense against the lure of unchecked power and all amidst Trevayne’s appealing Belle Époque-flavored setting. (Simon, 8–11 years)

At the start of A Problematic Paradox, “weirdo” scientific genius Nikola is approached by a group of oddly proportioned girls who smell like “microwaved roadkill.” She’s cautious, and rightly so: they’re Old Ones, evil interdimensional creatures who have abducted Nikola’s father. Before they can also snatch Nikola, she’s whisked off to the Plaskington International Laboratory School of Scientific Research and Technological Advancement. Author Eliot Sappingfield keeps the action popping, taking playful potshots at the sci-fi and fantasy genres. Funny, imaginative, and outlandish, but also a heartfelt tale of a thirteen-year-old girl navigating friendships for the first time. (Putnam, 9–12 years)

In Henry Lien’s Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword, orphan siblings Peasprout and Cricket arrive in the city of Pearl to study wu liu, a martial skating art with a disregard for the laws of physics. But Peasprout’s fellow students would rather see her fail, and Cricket struggles to keep up. Then rumors and acts of sabotage lead to suspicion that Peasprout is a spy. The narrative dazzles readers with descriptions of foods, architecture, and customs unfamiliar to Peasprout, while the mystery and intrigue will keep them guessing. (Holt, 9–12 years)

From the July 2018 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Shoshana Flax About Shoshana Flax

Shoshana Flax, assistant editor for The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College. She is a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee.

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