New mid­dle school adventures

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Nation/World - By Lee Lit­tle­wood

Though mid­dle school­ers are of­ten dis­tracted by friends, elec­tron­ics, sports and ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, read­ing is truly im­por­tant. Th­ese books are ex­cit­ing enough to hold in­ter­ests.

“The Won­der­ling” by Mira Bar­tok; Can­dlewick Press; 450 pages; $21.99.

The back of this fan­tas­ti­cal tale reads, in mys­te­ri­ous, vin­tage let­ter­ing, “Have you been un­ex­pect­edly bur­dened by a re­cently or­phaned or un­claimed crea­ture? Worry not! We have just the so­lu­tion for you!” That’s enough to draw me in to Mira Bar­tok’s de­but chil­dren’s novel, about a one-eared fox-like groundling, (half-hu­man, half-crea­ture), who es­capes a dread­ful or­phan­age with the help of small me­chan­i­cal bird named Trin­ket. Their adventures though forests and wild coun­try to find the mys­te­ri­ous Song catcher and un­lock se­crets of the past has hints of classic English adventures, a touch of steam­punk and lots of orig­i­nal fan­tasy full of amaz­ing crea­tures and all fun.

Hav­ing al­ready gar­nered a movie deal, “The Won­der­ling” is full of magic and hope and tons of imag­i­na­tion rolled into a 450-page read that kids will de­vour quickly. Bar­tok some­how has made her cool book old-fash­ioned and mod­ern at the same time.

“The Key­maker’s Quest: Ad­ven­ture­land” by Ja­son Leth­coe; Dis­ney Press/Hyperion; 262 pages; $14.99.

Many kids — and adults as well — long to hold on to the Dis­ney­land magic well af­ter their visit ends. This new book, in the “Tales from Dis­ney­land” se­ries, in­tro­duces a boy named Andy Stan­ley who thinks of his grand­fa­ther as Ned Lost­more: Ad­ven­turer. But arche­ol­o­gist Ned is lost in a search for a hid­den tem­ple, and Andy heads out on a quest to find him. Like a Jun­gle cruise or en­chanted tiki Room im­mer­sion ex­per­i­ment, Andy nav­i­gates Poly­ne­sian islands to keep an an­cient god Kapu from de­stroy­ing the world. He also ven­tures through other worlds of Dis­ney’s Ad­ven­ture­land at­trac­tions to find Ned.

With typ­i­cal Dis­ney cre­ativ­ity and thrills, Ja­son Leth­coe has penned a mag­i­cal, trop­i­cal tikiand-jun­gle-filled romp that’s a must for fans of the hap­pi­est place on Earth.

“Ra­pun­zel and the Lost La­goon” by Leila How­land; Dis­ney Press; 284 pages; $16.99.

Also from Dis­ney and full of whimsy and magic, Leila How­land’s mys­te­ri­ously fun “Tan­gled” tale stars Ra­pun­zel, 18 years af­ter she’s stuck in a tower, hair hang­ing down. She meets Cas­san­dra, daugh­ter of a guard, who longs to be a sol­dier, and the pair set out to climb trees and fol­low ad­ven­ture. The girls don’t do typ­i­cally princess things, and stum­ble on a se­cret la­goon said to hold the key to the king­dom’s great­est power.

With lots of ad­ven­ture and mys­tery, and a strong friend­ship theme, “Ra­pun­zel and the Lost La­goon” is also writ­ten with high Dis­ney stan­dards, and scores a big win for the younger end of mid­dle grade read­ers.

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