Lynn: One of the most fun things we often get to do at ALA is attend publisher preview events and this year in Chicago one of the most fun was Scholastic’s Fall preview that featured authors presenting upcoming books in a reader’s theater style. I’m sure neither of us will forget tall Brandon Mull, down on his knees, giving voice to Yoda in Jeffrey Brown’s new book, Star Wars: Jedi Academy! It was great fun and ALL the books sounded so enticing. Cindy and I were especially interested in two that are are the starts of two new series that we think will be wildly popular with elementary and middle school students.
First up is Spirit Animals: Wild Born by Brandon Mull (Scholastic Sept. 2013). Upon turning eleven in the world of Erdas, children drink Nectar and discover if they are among the lucky few who can call a spirit animal. This rare bond gives special powers to both. Once many years ago, the evil Devourer attempted to take over the world and in the war that followed, 4 of the Great Beasts fell. Something evil is stirring again in Erdas and, astonishingly, when 4 children drink Nectar, each summons one of the 4 Great Beasts. The four young heroes and their spirit animals unite, train, and begin what is to be an epic struggle against this rising evil.
Quite a set up! Mull’s exciting narrative propels readers straight into the action after introducing Conor, Abeke, Meilin and Rollan and their spirit animals. The developing bond between each pair of humans and animals is unique, reveals much about the personalities of the young warriors and heightens both interest and suspense. Political double-dealing, sword fights and hand-to-hand combat keep the tension high and the pace fast as the story surges to a cliff-hangar ending that will leave readers begging for the next installment.
While they wait, after August 13th, readers can join the Quest by entering the code in the front of the book and claiming their own spirit animal. Stay tuned to learn what animals Cindy and I summon
Cindy: Gordon Korman has a good following among my middle schoolers (Son of the Mob is one of my favorite booktalks and one of our best circulating titles). He has a new series with a kid who has skills as a mind-bender. The Hypnotists (Scholastic 2013) showcases Jackson Opus, a teen who comes to realize that the strange things happening around him are due to his inherited powers as a skilled hypnotist. He is recruited to the Sentia Institute to be trained to hone his skills, but all is not what it first appears. I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed in this opener and yet, I will probably check out the next one to see how the series evolves. Korman usually has me laughing aloud when I read his stories, but this one fell short for me. I think that the hypnotism premise will hook my sixth grade boys, though, so I will be eager to get their opinion this fall.
A Scholastic series that I have already seen embraced by my reluctant readers is Lauren Tarshis’s I Survived series. One of my resource room teachers discovered them at the bookstore and begged me to buy some for her students. I did and the 7th graders loved them. I Survived the Battle of Gettysburg, 1863 or I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005 are just two in this popular series that were easy enough for these struggling readers but which don’t look like a “baby book” for them to be embarrassed reading. When I Survived The Japanese Tsunami, 2011 showed up in a delivery, I read it to catch up with my students. The story of Ben, visiting Japan a few months after his father’s death. sees him and his family swept up in the giant wave that hits the Japanese coastline. The danger is palpable but Ben uses his strong memories of his father to help him survive and in turns finds a way to deal with his enormous grief. Each book concludes with some information about the real disaster, an element that my students really like. We could use a few more series like this one to motivate my middle school students who are reading below grade level.