Middle Grade Monday - Stamp of Approval

Check out Shannon Messenger's blog for more Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday posts!

Generally I'm sharing books that I *think* middle grade students will like. I'm usually correct, but it's so nice to be able to write about books that I *know* at least one middle grade student adored. My older son often takes off with books that arrive at my house before I have a chance to read them, but this week it's my younger son (3rd grade) who takes center stage.

The Key & the Flame
by Claire M. Caterer
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
ISBN 1442457414 (ISBN13: 9781442457416)

Eleven-year-old Holly Shepard wants nothing more than to seek adventure outside of her humdrum American life. She gets her chance at last when her family travels to England and Holly receives an unusual gift: an iron key that unlocks a passage to the dangerous kingdom of Anglielle, where magic is outlawed and those who practice magic are hunted. When her friend Everett and brother Ben are captured by Anglielle’s ruthless king, Holly must rescue them. But that means finding—and using—the magic within herself and learning which magical allies she can trust. The Key & the Flame is the first in a brand-new fantasy adventure series for ages 8 and up.

My thoughts: 
I won a copy of The Key & the Flame directly from the author. It arrived with a full bag o' swag and captured my younger son's attention. He snagged it right out of my hands and proceeded to DEVOUR it in just two days. So the "eight and up" target range? Dead on. Don't just trust me, though, here's what my third grader (who is a huge Percy Jackson and Harry Potter fan) had to say:
The Key & the Flame is an awesome book! It is about Holly. Holly is trying to save her brother and her friend from a dungeon. I think Holly's way to free them was cool. I think that because it involved magic. 

I loved the fact that the girl was the main "mover and shaker" in the story, since the book will appeal to boys and girls equally. Yes, it is important for girls to see themselves as the heroes in a story. It is just as  important for boys to see girls in these roles. I love the fact that this book didn't have the girl as just the "important sidekick".

But wait... there's more... 

When The Key & the Flame arrived, there were other items and bookmarks included. One of them, in particular, jumped out at my son. Since Rump was also receiving rave reviews online from other Nerdy Book Club friends, I decided to use my gift card and order my very own copy.

It arrived... and guess what? Yep, younger son grabbed it out of the box and took it with him to school. I knew this was a winner because I kept hearing him giggle as he read.

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
by Liesl Shurtliff
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 9th 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers (first published April 1st 2013)
ISBN 0307977935 (ISBN13: 9780307977939)
Goodreads Synopsis: 
In a magical kingdom where your name is your destiny, 12-year-old Rump is the butt of everyone's joke. But when he finds an old spinning wheel, his luck seems to change. Rump discovers he has a gift for spinning straw into gold. His best friend, Red Riding Hood, warns him that magic is dangerous, and she’s right. With each thread he spins, he weaves himself deeper into a curse.

To break the spell, Rump must go on a perilous quest, fighting off pixies, trolls, poison apples, and a wickedly foolish queen. The odds are against him, but with courage and friendship—and a cheeky sense of humor—he just might triumph in the end.

My Thoughts:
I mentioned how much my son giggled as he read this one, right? Here's how he described it in his reader's notebook for school: 
Rump is a very awesome and very very funny book. The main character is Rump (yes, the rump that stands for a cow's butt). He figured out he can spin straw into gold. He sold the gold he made to get food (not much) so he would not starve. 
As for me - I also adored it. I love fractured fairy tales (be sure to check out the Hero's Guide series), and this was a great example. Rumplestiltskin is such a fascinating character, and I loved seeing his childhood. 

The Bottom Line

Both books are fabulous new fantasies for middle graders. Rump is shorter and funnier, so may be especially good for younger or more reluctant readers. The Key & the Flame is definitely longer, and will appeal to stronger readers or upper middle graders. Lots of great magical adventure!


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