Review: The Phantom Tollbooth


Title: The Phantom Tollbooth
Author: Norton Juster
Publisher: Random House Bullseye Books
Release Date: 1961
Length: 256 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Children’s, Fantasy

For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams. . .

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

my review

I had never read The Phantom Tollbooth as a child, and I had no idea what my students and I were about to embark on this past year while reading.

The Skinny

Milo is not your typical boy. No, he doesn’t find joy or even contentment in anything. Everything is boring and useless. What is this life even for? Until one day he arrives home to find a tollbooth waiting with a manual and coinage, ready to take him to the Kingdom of Wisdom. Through a series of adventures and characters along the way, Milo travels around the kingdom and is soon tasked with rescuing twin princesses Rhyme and Reason. Nothing has been the same in the kingdom since they were banished, and many want them to set things to rights.


The Players

Milo – a young boy who is utterly bored with everything in life, nothing satisfies him or even slightly makes him content

Tock – a “watch dog” – a dog with a clock that can fly

The Humbug – a bug who can never make up his mind and is in general disagreeable, sometimes a hindrance

The Quote

You must never feel badly about making mistakes … as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.

The Highs and Lows

  • Milo. He is a young boy, but his character grated on my nerves…at first. Milo doesn’t see the point in anything. He doesn’t see the point in learning at all. Words didn’t matter. Slowly, as Milo traipsed from place to place, he slowly morphed and changed and grew. By the end of the book, he was the exact opposite of the boy he was at the beginning, and I liked that. He learns to talk to people and mean things, too.
  • Abstractions. Each of the places Milo visits and all of his tasks are rather abstract, so they aren’t really for younger readers. I’d say 10-12 is the right age to read this for the first time, especially independently. I read this with a group of my sixth-grade students, and I will say they remembered more intricacies and nuances of characters, actions, or words from previous days’ readings than I did. They also understood the jokes, which is 70% or more of the book. The play on words, puns, deeper meanings, and overall abstract language about abstract concepts were cause for pause and thought.

  • Adventures. As Milo moves around the Kingdom of Wisdome (see map), he has pitfalls and lessons learned along the way to his ultimate goal: reaching the Castle in the Sky and saving Rhyme and Reason. As Milo and Tock travel, they meet other characters (Whether Man, the Mathemagician, Kakofonous Discord, King Azaz the Unabridged to name a few) who help teach Milo something, and a few characters depart certain magical items to Milo that he will need to accomplish his mission. For example, he learns there is an almost limitless number of words, but choosing the right words for every occasion is important. He ends up in some serious situations and some funny ones, like when everyone else was eating such tasty treats at the King Azaz’s feast.
  • Lack of engagement. This is a slow book to wade through. Yes, you have to wade. Slowly. You want to finish the book, but you also want to move on to different, more engaging and fun reads. It takes a while to get through, but I appreciated the growth Milo experienced.



Norton Juster is an architect and planner, professor emeritus of design at Hampshire College, and the author of a number of highly acclaimed children’s books, including The Dot and the Line, which was made into an Academy Award-winning animated film. He has collaborated with Sheldon Harnick on the libretto for an opera based on The Phantom Tollbooth. The musical adaptation, with a score by Arnold Black, premiered in 1995. An amateur cook and professional eater, Mr. Juster lives with his wife in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Review: Rosco the Rascal Visits the Pumpkin Patch

Title: Rosco the Rascal Visits the Pumpkin Patch
Author: Shana Gorian
Publisher: KDP
Release Date: September 2014
Length: 130 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Children’s


31752229On a sunny autumn day brother and sister James and Mandy head to the pumpkin patch with their friendly dog, Rosco, to choose a pumpkin for Halloween. While riding a hay wagon, visiting a petting zoo, and joining the kids on a scavenger hunt, Rosco sometimes makes mischief. But when the kids find trouble deep inside the corn maze, will Rosco shape up and help out? Join the kids and their rascally dog for fun and adventure in Rosco The Rascal Visits The Pumpkin Patch.  Recommended for grades K-3 (ages 6-9). Includes 15+ black and white interior illustrations.

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon


my review

The Skinny

James and Mandy McKendrick visit the pumpkin patch with their parents and their fairly new-to-the-family dog. Rosco is a German Shepard and is a good dog in general, but he can get distracted easily. The McKendricks are known for their awesome Halloween pumpkin carvings. Mr. McKendrick always selects an overly large pumpkin at the patch, and the kids enjoy the petting zoo and corn maze.

This year the duo have convinced their parents they can manage the maze on their own. There are just two stipulations: they must stay together using the same punch-card, and Rosco must go with them. The deal is sealed and the kids set out only to find trouble deep inside the corn maze.

The Players

Rosco – an 85 lb. German Shepard, recently adopted, enjoys being off the leash, always gets up to some mischief

Mandy – 7 year old sister to James, likes the chickens,

James – 10 year old brother to Mandy, likes the piglets, doesn’t enjoy arguing with Mandy

Luke – 4 year old cutie in the corn maze

The Quote

Their giant jack-o-lantern would be the jewel of the neighborhood, every year. Trick-or-treaters would marvel at the size of it. Dad always loved the compliments.

So this day was about more than just petting zoos and hay rides for the McKendrick family. It was about finding another outrageously large pumpkin in that patch. It was about art and tradition.

As the holiday approached, the whole block at home would be anxiously waiting to see what new creation Mr. McKendrick would come up with this year. And trick-or-treaters would come from far and wide to delight in the spectacle on Halloween night!

The Highs and Lows

  • + Family. I love that this children’s story focuses on the positive values of family. I don’t think there are enough examples of this in reading as children outgrow picture books. This is the kind of family you want to live on your street, be your neighbor, help you out if you’re in a bind and list them as an emergency contact for your child’s school.
  • + Values. When James and Mandy stumble upon Rosco and what he’s found in the maze, the siblings step up. They extend a hand, are kind and compassionate, and stand up for someone who has been wronged in the right way. Rosco also helped with that a bit. 🙂 This is a great teaching tool!
  • + Funny. While there wasn’t rip-roaring laughter, I giggled in outbursts over the antics of Rosco and some of the dialogue among the family. It is cute and clean and light-hearted.
  • Plot. The plot spanned the course of one day and all the adventures throughout it. For the most part, the activities of each character are reflected in each chapter. The POV is 3rd person omniscient, so it might throw off younger readers who have never seen this before.

The Take-Away

This was a cute and light read for fall. What I liked most was the family doing things together and nobody throwing a fit or not participating. This is a great book to read as a family and can even bridge some of those conversations about what you like to do and can do as a family.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 




8567620Shana Gorian is the author of the chapter series for kids, Rosco the Rascal. Titles include Rosco the Rascal In the Land of Snow, Rosco the Rascal Goes to Camp, and Rosco the Rascal Visits the Pumpkin Patch.

Originally from Western Pennsylvania, Shana has lived in Southern California for 20 years. She lives with her husband and two children, and the real Rosco, their German shepherd, Rugger.

Shana attended the University of Pittsburgh, earning her Bachelor of Arts in English Writing in 1994. She then attended San Diego City College, where she trained as a graphic designer. She went on to work as a website designer in San Diego for nearly a decade. But she always wanted to venture back to her love of the written word, and try her hand at fiction. Ten years into motherhood, she published her first children’s book. Shana is an avid lover of the great outdoors, and is always searching for more stories!

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Review: Awkward

23657454Title: Awkward
Author: Svetlana Chmakova
Publisher: Yen Press
Release Date: July 2015
Length: 224 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Graphic Novel, MG

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

Cardinal rule #1 for surviving school: Don’t get noticed by the mean kids.

Cardinal rule #2 for surviving school: Seek out groups with similar interests and join them.

On her first day at her new school, Penelope–Peppi–Torres reminds herself of these basics. But when she trips into a quiet boy in the hall, Jaime Thompson, she’s already broken the first rule, and the mean kids start calling her the “nerder girlfriend.” How does she handle this crisis? By shoving poor Jaime and running away!

Falling back on rule two and surrounding herself with new friends in the art club, Peppi still can’t help feeling ashamed about the way she treated Jaime. Things are already awkward enough between the two, but to make matters worse, he’s a member of her own club’s archrivals–the science club! And when the two clubs go to war, Peppi realizes that sometimes you have to break the rules to survive middle school!

Read More »

Review: Study Hall of Justice

25786965Title: Study Hall of Justice
Author: Derek Fridolfs and Dustin Nguyen
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Release Date: January 2016
Length: 176 pages
Series?: DC Comics: Secret Hero Society #1
Genre: Graphic Novel, MG

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

Being the new kid at school is tough, especially when your school is called Ducard Academy and your name is Bruce Wayne. There’s a gang of jokers roaming the halls, a muscle-headed kid named Bane wants to beat you up, and your headmaster Hugo Strange seems really, well, strange.

This inventive novel follows young Bruce Wayne and his friends Clark (Superman) and Diana (Wonder Woman) as they start a Junior Detective Agency to investigate their teachers and find out what’s going on behind closed doors at Ducard Academy, all before recess.

This all-new story presents a twist on the idea of junior sleuths, using comics, journal entries, and doodles to reimagine Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman as three students in the same school. They’ll try their best to solve their case, but just because you’re faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful than a locomotive, it doesn’t mean you get to stay up past eleven.


The Skinny

Bruce Wayne enrolls in a mysterious and prestigious private school, Ducard Academy. After his initial tour, he immediately begins to suspect some things are amiss, especially after spotting stalker ninjas. Bruce struggles with adapting to his new environment and has several run-ins with fellow students, leading him to find the only other normal kids like him: Clark Kent and Diana Prince. The three band together and form a detectives club to investigate their new school.

The Players

Bruce Wayne

Clark Kent

Diana Prince

Alfred Pennyworth

The Quote

 “The S is a symbol of my home planet. I mean Smallville. The S stands for my hometown Smallville.”

The Highs and Lows

  • The Trinity. In this re-imagined DC Comic, the Trinity members (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman) are young middle school students. They have not yet fully grasped their dual identities, nor have their personalities fully developed. Bruce is a little dorky, Clark is quite dense, and Diana has anger issues. The underlyings to the personalities we have come to know and love are little seedlings.
  • The Content. The storyline is developed and told primarily through Bruce’s POV as he investigates Ducard and conducts his detectives club. The plot is told through a variety of black & white sketches, comic panels, journal entries, text and instant messages, and school reports and notes that all help develop the plot in a fresh way.
  • Familiar Faces. The book is filled with familiar faces from DC. The students and teachers are all DC villains. It would be hard to find a character who isn’t a DC villain. Whether a seasoned DC vet or new to to game, this is a new take on the already existing characters, some of which include Joker and Harley Quinn as the class clowns, Bane as the school bully, Braniac as the librarian, Hugo Strange as the guidance counselor and many more.
  • Halloween. The characters don’t really realize who they are in terms of their superhero dual identity, and at Halloween they all dress up and show some semblance of who we all know they later become. Going through middle school, they are learning who they are and what they stand for, and this is just the first step in claiming their superhero status.

The Take-Away

This is a very age-appropriate graphic novel, especially for those in 3-8 grades, but it appeals to a wider audience. Whether kid, teen, or adult, this graphic novel is entertaining and enjoyable.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 

I really think this is a series to buy and keep around for a rainy day. It also makes for a perfect back-to-school read and it is an AR book!

Review: Wonder

23302416Title: Wonder
Author: R.J. Palacio
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Release Date: January 2013
Length: 315 pages
Series?: Wonder #1
Genre: Contemporary YA, MG

Find the book: Goodreads | Amazon

You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August Pullman wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things. He eats ice cream. He plays on his Xbox. He feels ordinary – inside.

But Auggie is far from ordinary. Ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.

Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world. Now, for the first time, he’s being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted – but can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?

Narrated by Auggie and the people around him whose lives he touches forever, Wonder is a funny, frank, astonishingly moving debut to read in one sitting, pass on to others, and remember long after the final page.


The Skinny

Auggie Pullman is not your typical ten year old. He was born with facial deformities that have changed the course of his life. After many, many surgeries and necessary recovery time, Auggie is not like everyone else. He knows exactly how he looks, and he is very aware of how other people see him, which is why he has been home-schooled up until the fifth grade.

Now that his surgeries are finished, his parents believe he should attend school because one day he will be out in the world. Auggie is a wreck, but he has an out: he can quit at any time if it becomes too much. They select a local and prestigious private school and arrange for Auggie to go on a tour with hand-selected students to help acclimate him.

The rest of the story follows Auggie as he journeys through his first year at middle school. Along the way he meets some incredible friends who each have their own struggles, as well as unfortunate encounters with some truly horrendous adults. Auggie accepts it all and trudges on, gaining confidence as the year goes on.

The Players

Auggie – a 10 year old boy born with craniofacial abnormalities who is going to public school for the first time

Via – Auggie’s older overprotective sister who is starting her first year of high school

Mom – Auggie and Via’s overbearing, mother hen

Dad – Auggie and Via’s jokester dad who calls Auggie “Auggie Doggie”

Daisy – Auggie’s sweet dog

Miranda – Via’s best friend, she shares a few quirks with Auggie

Julian – a boy at Auggie’s new school who is two-faced

Jack Will – a boy at Auggie’s new school who befriends him

Summer – a girl at Auggie’s new school who befriends him

Justin – Via’s boy friend

The Quote

 When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. 

The Highs and Lows

  • The Reality. The thing that makes this book so relatable is the realness. Auggie is a kid who suffers the shocked looks, the dirty looks, the whispers, the mean comments. He understands people’s strange fascination with him, so he tries to hide it, always with his head down, hiding behind his bangs, only seeing the world through sidled eyes.
  • The Writing. Overall, the chapters were fairly short. Palacio crafts such simple sentences with beautiful sentiment that penetrates the heart. The short chapters amplify the meaning behind each character’s perspective.
  • The POVs. The amazing thing about this book is that Auggie is just one person, but he is loved by many. The book is broken into parts, and the parts further broken down into alternating character POVs, which makes this a character-driven story. The plot progresses because of the characters. There are six total: Auggie, Via, Jack Will, Summer, Justin, and Miranda. Each of these characters present their own individual struggles, but they are all tied to Auggie. Ultimately, they each tell the story of how Auggie has changed them, made them better people.
    • Via – She is struggling starting her first year of high school without her best friends, who have abandoned her. She does not want to be known as the girl with the deformed brother, so she tries to separate her school life from her home life. This is her opportunity to make a new start where people don’t associate her with Auggie…becuase to them, he doesn’t exist.
    • Jack Will – Jack is one of the first students Auggie ever meets, put together by his principal (Mr. Tushman). He is supposed to be nice to Auggie, but comes to find he actually likes Auggie, and befriends him. Jack gets swept up in the monster that is middle school and Auggie feels betrayed. For a long time they don’t speak to one another, and Jack Will feels lower than dirt about it.
    • Justin – He is Via’s boy friend, who then becomes her boyfriend. They enjoy being in the theater club. Justin eventually gets to meet Via’s family, and he would much rather be with them than his own. He has a lot of issues going on at home and gravitates to the radiance that Auggie’s family gives off.
    • Miranda – While she and Via were as thick as thieves, and she and Auggie had a special relationship, Miranda couldn’t be farther from that. She is spiraling down a black hole she can’t climb out of following her parents divorce. The summer preceding high school is where it starts – the lying. Miranda lies to her campmates and uses Auggie’s physicality as a freak show draw. Once you start lying, it’s hard to stop. She does something redeeming at the end of the book.
  • The Heart. This book isn’t one of those tear-jerkers that makes you ugly cry. It does explore the depth of the characters and their relationship with Auggie and what happens because of it.  This is a difficult issue that Palacio approaches with gusto and grace.
  • The Deal. Auggie’s mother is the one who broaches the subject of Auggie going to school, and Auggie hates the idea, as does his dad. He goes on a tour of Beecher Prep and meets Julian, Charlotte, and Jack Will. After some incidents like the “Cheese Touch” game, Auggie wants to quit. That was always on the table – he could quit at any time. Surprisingly, his parents have switched sides on the matter, and his father pushes him to remain at school while his mother falls all over him with her mothering. Auggie is in it for the long haul.
  • Auggie. He is such an incredible character. He is so insightful and profound for a 10 year old. While he is incredibly smart, there are many people who doubt that – because all they see is his face. While Auggie hides behind his hair, it is not a complete barrier between him and the world. He notices things around him, especially about people.
  • Auggie’s Friendships. Jack Will was put up to befriending Auggie, but he realizes what Auggie really offers as a friend, and it becomes real. They are like PB&J. Summer is the first person at Beecher Prep who willingly approaches Auggie. Their friendship starts over something silly – the fact that they both have summer names.
  • The Bully. Julian is one of those kids who has mastered the art of deception. He is sugar and sweet and the most absolutely amazing young boy to the faces of adults, but the moment there are none around he is the nasty slithering snake in the grass. Julian’s parents have some prominence, with his mother being on the school board, and she tries to use her power to influence some decisions regarding Auggie. Julian himself tries to get the entire fifth grade to ostracize Auggie, but things don’t always go according to plan.
  • The Universal Truth. This is a book that everyone should read in their lifetime. I think it should be mandatory for 5th grade students, because they will be facing what Auggie and Via face as they proceed to middle school. The things that each of the characters shared during their chapters were so intimate. Palacio shares such a powerful message with this story:  choose kindness, always. There are so many wonderful lessons about life that Auggie and his friends show readers.

The Take-Away

I was laughing at many points, tearing up at others, boiling with anger at the injustice, and completely crying in certain spots. From beginning to end, I enjoyed everything about this book. I loved the side-characters who come to Auggie’s aid during the camp retreat. It shows that there is redemption in humanity.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 

BUY IT. Buy it for yourself, your children, your siblings, your grandchildren, nieces/nephews, your neighbor. It is such an incredible story that everyone needs to hear.


About the Author

RJ PalacioR.J. Palacio lives in NYC with her husband, two sons, and two dogs. For more than twenty years, she was an art director and graphic designer, designing book jackets for other people while waiting for the perfect time in her life to start writing her own novel. But one day several years ago, a chance encounter with an extraordinary child in front of an ice cream store made R. J. realize that the perfect time to write that novel had finally come. Wonder is her first novel. She did not design the cover, but she sure does love it.

Raquel J. Palacio / R. J. Palacio is a pseudonym of: Raquel Jaramillo.

Find the author: Website | Twitter | Goodreads

Review + Giveaway: The Sockkids Say NO to Bullying

BeachBoundBooks is pleased to be coordinating a blog tour for the children’s book The SockKids Say NO to Bullying, written by Michael John Sullivan and illustrated by Alexandra Gold. The tour will run from July 18 – August 15, 2016.5275020

About the Book

3318808 Title: The SockKids Say NO to Bullying | Authors: Michael John Sullivan and Shelley Larkin | Illustrator: Alexandra Gold | Genre: Children’s Picture Book/Social Issues | Number of Pages: 56 | Publisher: Insider’s Report, Inc | Publication Date: June 7, 2016 amazon2

The SockKids focus on educating children and adults how bullying affects us all and what we can do about it.Do you know where your socks go when they go missing in the washing machine? Well, the SockKids know! The SockKids are a mismatched family of socks that sometimes time travel through the spin cycle, teaching universal lessons of love and kindness, and focusing on creating a greater awareness of the many social issues that children are faced with today. The SockKids help to educate and encourage children from 2 to 92 to find solutions in helping to make this a better world. In this story, Sudsy and Wooly discover their human is being bullied at school and team up against bullies with Ethan’s newest friend, Olivia. They discover bullying hurts everyone and staying silent is not an option. More Inside! Children’s counselor and licensed therapist, Jamie Ross, gives adults and children guidelines on how to handle bullies.

Take a look inside the book…


The Skinny

Sudsy and Wooly go to school with Ethan, where he is excited to talk to new student Olivia about the book they are both reading. With a ragtag group of tough boy bullies, Ethan is embarrassed to talk to Olivia. With the help of Sudsy and Wooly, Ethan overcomes his fear and Olivia rescues his destroyed book. They quickly bond over Olivia’s newness and Ethan invites her to hang out with his friends, who try to help others. Together Ethan and his friends welcome Olivia to their school.

The Players

Rainbow – the loving mother sock. multi-colored

Sudsy – the adventurous son, green and orange

Sunni – Sudsy’s giggly baby sister

Wooly – Sudsy’s shy brother

Ethan – Sudsy’s human

Olivia – the new girl at Ethan’s school

The Quote

“No. There isn’t anything wrong with you just because you are different from others or have different interests. Every sock is different. We have different colors. We’re made of different fabric. We have different shapes and sizes. We even have different soap issues.”

The Highs and Lows

  • Anti-bullying. This book has a social focus: tips to prevent bullying, and what to do in a situation when you or a friend are bullied. It is very simple for younger readers to understand.
  • Important Lessons. This short and sweet book has several important lessons, including bullying, working together, and staying safe. It shows two types of situations and what to do in each to be helpful.
  • The SockKids. The socks are so incredibly cute and supportive. I liked the scene when Olivia tries to rescue the cat with Wooly, who is nervous, and Sudsy calls up encouragement.
  • Sudsy. I’m not sure what his name was supposed to be. It starts out Sudsy, then at school changes to stretch, and then turns back to Sudsy. Any editor should have easily picked up on this mistake.

The Take-Away

I can easily see this short and simplistic story for younger audiences turned into animated shorts. I hope there are more to come from the SockKids.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 

For teachers in the younger grades and parents, I recommend buying this one to keep around to help teach those important life lessons.

About the Author

172142122 Michael John Sullivan is the creator of the SockKids. Constantly searching for his socks, he wondered whether the missing foot comforters had found another pair of feet to warm. Before his interest in socks, Sullivan started writing his first novel while homeless, riding a NYC subway train at night. Sullivan returned to his subway notes in 2007 and began writing Necessary Heartbreak: A Novel of Faith and Forgiveness (Simon & Schuster, Gallery Books imprint). Library Journal named Necessary Heartbreak one of the year’s best in 2010. His second novel, Everybody’s Daughter (Fiction Studio Books, 2012) was named one of the best books of 2012 by Sullivan has written articles about the plight of homelessness for, The Washington,, the Huffington Post, and America Online’s service.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card or $25 PayPal cash prize (INT). Ends August 15, 11:59 pm, 2016.

Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

Terms and Conditions: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW. A winner will be randomly drawn through the Rafflecopter widget and will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. The winner will then have 72 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, a new draw will take place for a new winner. Odds of winning will vary depending on the number of eligible entries received. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with Facebook. This giveaway is sponsored by the author, Michael John Sullivan and is hosted and managed by Stacie from BeachBoundBooks. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to email Stacie.

Review + Giveaway: Liberty Frye and the Sails of Fate


6372667Title: Liberty Frye and the Sails of Fate
Author: J.L. McCreedy
Publisher: Green Darner Press
Release Date: May 2015
Length: 260 pages
Series?: Liberty Frye #2
Genre: Middle Grades, Fantasy

Find the book: Goodreads |Amazon

When Liberty Frye wakes up on her eleventh birthday, nothing about it feels particularly celebratory. As if being a witch in training isn’t confusing enough, her mother’s mysterious illness has grown worse overnight and her best-friend-turned-foster-sister Ginny is driving her crazy.

Then there’s the matter of Uncle Frank’s new invention that he has brought to her surprise party. When Libby’s freaky powers accidentally activate it, she and her unsuspecting birthday party guests are transported into an ocean of darkness. Literally. Soon, they’re running – or rather, sailing – for their lives, chasing after clues while dodging angry islanders and makeshift spells gone awry.

To save herself and everyone she cares about, Libby knows she must confront the dark forces bent on determining their fate. But what she doesn’t know is … how?



The Skinny

The Liberté sets sail on Libby’s birthday, with Ginny, Sal, Esmerelda, Buttercup, and Uncle Frank aboard. Ginny, Libby’s foster sister, is driving her absolutely nuts. She’s perfect. Her perfections points out all the ways Libby is wrong. After learning she is a witch – and a very powerful one – nothing has been right since.  Uncle Frank is so excited about his new invention that he brings it along to the party. All is good and well until Libby’s magical powers set something askew with Uncle Frank’s invention…and lands them in the South Pacific. In 1871! Libby and Ginny must work together to battle pirates and get back to present day – and they find some unsuspecting friends along the way.

The Players

Libby – an 11 year old witch; struggling with her new foster sister situation

Ginny – Libby’s foster sister; she is acting

Uncle Frank – Libby’s scientist uncle

Sal McCool – Uncle Frank’s war buddy

Esmerelda – a robot who-speaks-like-this

Buttercup – Libby’s pet goose

Kai – a not-so British boy

The Quote

But the worst thing of all was that Ginny was better at being normal…and there was nothing Libby could change about that. Being a witch really stank sometimes. 


Who knew turning eleven could be so depressing? 


 “I-do-declare-you-there! Big-bellied-man-with-the-hamburger! And-you! Lady-with-too-much-makeup!” 


“We went through a wormhole and traveled through time!” 

There was a long pause. 

“I think you’ve got a concussion after all,” Ginny said after another moment. “Or maybe it’s your blood sugar. Have you been tested for diabetes?”


“I’m not squeaking, Ginny; I’m speaking their language!” 

For one full minute, there was utter silence. Then Ginny said, “Get yourself together! We don’t have time for this!”

The Highs and Lows

  • The Bad Omen. The book starts off talking about a bad omen. Libby always wears her top hat on her birthday, and she has forgotten it. Is that a sign of everything else to come?
  • Ginny vs. Libby. Libby sees herself as not normal. She doesn’t realize most of it is because she’s a witch – and doesn’t know how to use her powers. Ginny, on the other hand, is the perfect daughter you could ask for. She’s polite and charming and does everything right – everything that Libby does wrong. Grown ups like Ginny. What Libby fails to realize is it isn’t a Ginny vs. Libby contest, it is a Ginny vs. Foster Care battle. In the end, Libby realizes this and things between them are good.
  • Historical Aspect. Despite being an MG book, Libby’s pirating adventure does touch on historical aspects of “blackbirding” and slave trade. Although I am unfamiliar with slave trade out of the South Pacific, this was a very prevalent trade between the African coast, Caribbean, and the colonies. There is a true aspect of this horrible practice that is revealed – and it could cost Libby and her friends their lives.
  • Uncle Frank. He’s so cute for a little scientist uncle. He makes me think of Doc from Back to the Future. I was waiting for him to say “Great Scott!” but it never came. However, he does take the proactive approach to a (misconstrued and misplaced) coming-of-age conversation with Libby. It was slightly mortifying, and Libby wanted to crawl through albatross poop to end the conversation. However, Uncle Frank is a pretty great uncle and a quirky character.
  • Talking to Rats. Yes, Libby has the ability to talk to the rats aboard the pirate ship. Sir Jaspar and his gang of (un)merry men help Libby and Ginny out in a bind. Literally.
  • The Pirates. They are down and dirty rotten. Esmerelda surprises Captain Hayes with a slight life story, and he learns he will meet an untimely death…after escaping from prison a few times. There are several different pirate characters, and they are all bad news. For a while I was really worried if they’d even make it away from the pirates, let alone back to present day.

The Take-Away

The pacing held me back on this one. I couldn’t move past a part for the longest time, and finally had to force myself to. I felt I had no idea what was going on with the characters. At times I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone, which I chalk up to not having read the first book. I think the first book in the series established a lot of the character relationships and the backstory.

Recommendation – Buy, Borrow or Skip? 

Although I feel it was important that this book delved into the human trafficking of the 1800s – better known as slavery – I struggled to find memorable moments in this book. I think the pacing killed it for me. If the series sparked interest in your or your child, I would skip.

*About the Author

3219582J.L. McCreedy first learned a love of writing (and developed an incurable condition of wanderlust) while growing up in Southeast Asiaas the child of missionaries. She holds a B.A. in English and a law degree, freelances as a writer and consultant for charitable organizations and, whenever possible, drags her splendid husband across the globe on ill-planned, shoestring adventures.

Books by J.L. McCreedy:
Liberty Frye and the Witches of Hessen (Book 1)
Liberty Frye and the Sails of Fate (Book 2)
The Orphan of Torundi

Find the author: WebsiteTwitter | Goodreads