Into the Hare Wood by Tonya Macalino

On her last day of school Hannah Troyer finds an honor guard of neighborhood cats lining the street as she walks home. This is the first in a series of strange events that include a neighborhood tramp, a violent storm and a family legacy that her father never taught her.

The Gates of Aurona series would fit in nicely in any school library. The reading level is matched perfectly to the upper elementary interest level with a professional appearance that is becoming more common in independently published books. Hannah’s social difficulties are left vague and are ancillary to the story, giving any child who feels they are on the edges of their family or friends group someone to relate to without pathologizing those feelings.

I enjoyed Into the Hare Wood more than most of the light fantasy books I read to my own children. Too many middle grades books either ignore the difficulties of real life or have the story focus too heavily on those difficulties. Hannah can feel lonely but still know she is loved. The family can make sacrifices when dad loses his job and remain grateful that they didn’t lose the house, a very real possibility for many families in similar situations. The family pulls together when things get scary with mom neither being the Great Problem Solver nor absent and ineffectual. The realism is a nice counterbalance to the fantastic plot.

For part two of the story read:

All books can be purchased through Amazon by clicking on their images.

PI Penguin and the Case of the Missing Bottle by Bec J Smith

In this book P.I. Penguin helps his dolphin friend find his missing bottle. They ask questions and follow leads until the lost bottle is found. Along the way we meet many denizens of the deep, drawn in brilliant colors with a child-like aesthetic. While PI Penguin is able to help his friends, he has spent the past five months unable to find his missing parents, adding a sorrowful note at the end of an otherwise uplifting story.

This read aloud book is rhythmic with different rhyming words on each page. While many books can seem pedantic with iambic tetrameter couplets, P.I. Penguin sprinkles the rhymes generously throughout each page, making it fun to read and providing emergent readers more opportunities to connect sounds with letters. There is a glossary of tricky words to help children grow their vocabulary along with their reading brains.

The book is gorgeously illustrated by Adit Galih, with pictures simple enough to be traced/copied by young readers but rich enough to bring the author’s vision to life. The writing is quick paced and engaging, lending itself well to using different voices for the characters. While the story line is sweet and contains a positive message, some parents may be concerned about certain aspects. Unlike some books for young children, this does not gloss over the realities of wildlife and P.I. speaks first to a shark and then to creatures the shark wanted to eat. Some people might be concerned about the unresolved missing parent sub-plot. Assuming that this is resolved over the course of the series, the best way to address this may be to buy all four books. I think the investment is worth it.

Final note: P.I.Penguin is written in a dyslexia friendly font, making it accessible to struggling readers.  I first learned about such fonts five years ago and have seen a few. This is by far the most elegant and could bring such fonts into the main stream. If you are interested in more books designed to meet the needs of readers with language disabilities you may want to check out the publisher at Aulexic.

You may be interested in the rest of the P.I. Penguin series:

All books can be purchased through Amazon by clicking on their images.
Okay, for some reason these images aren’t showing up. But you can still get to the books from the funny little squares.

The Witch With The Glitch by Adam Maxwell


The third book in the Lost Bookshop series, The Witch With The Glitch finds Ivy, Nina and Oswald in a fairy tale. Their adventure includes a witch in a candy house whose spells are going awry, an angry mob carrying pillows and feather dusters, and a less than competent Van Helsing. An errant spell turns our young adventurers into a ghost, vampire and werewolf. Can they find the kidnapped Izzy and bring her to the witch before midnight so they can be returned to their true selves?

The Lost Bookshop series is written for early independent readers. The main characters have more agency than is common in books at this level, making it a good choice for older kids who are slow readers. Serious issues are presented in a lighthearted way which may concern some adult readers who want books to present lessons the kids can use in their lives, but this is unlikely to be a concern for the kids who are the target market. The main lesson in The Witch with the Glitch is imaginative play is fun.

The Witch with the Glitch is loads of fun and keeps the reader wanting more. The fast-paced, short chapters make it an excellent choice for reading aloud at bedtime. The mini cliffhangers at the end of each chapter will encourage children to finish the book under the covers with a flashlight after lights out.

You might also enjoy the rest of the Lost Bookshop series:

All books can be purchased through Amazon by clicking on their images.

Lost Tomorrow by Donovan Scherer


Before she knew about Darksmith Manor and the tradition of monster making to which she was born, Sunshine Saliente was a girl with a Bunny. In this Alice in Wonderland-esque tale Sunshine and Bunny, her stuffed rabbit, find themselves in the post-apocalyptic World of Tomorrow. The city has a 1950s futurist aesthetic that seems alien to Sunshine, who grew up in a house built into a tree and has never heard of movies. With the people long gone, the robots, programmed to serve the residents, are desperate to bring happiness to the only person to stumble into their city in years.

Lost Tomorrow is written for nine to twelve year-olds but may be enjoyed by younger kids whether they are advanced readers or as a read aloud. The book has more potential danger than most books for this age group with just a touch of gross, making it exciting without being scary. While the Deus ex machina solution to Sunshine’s escape may seem a bit clunky to older readers, it suits its target audience. Sunshine’s cheerful cross between flower child and mad scientist is sure to delight readers of all ages.

Lost Tomorrow uses high level vocabulary and complex sentence structure making it a perfect book for advanced readers looking for challenging books written for their age group. Filled with whimsical pen and ink drawings by the author, it is not so dense in appearance as to be inaccessible to reluctant readers. A strong copy editor would have made a few passages more readable and brought the book to the next level of professionalism but it is otherwise a well told and engaging story. I wish the Fear and Sunshine books existed when my own daughter was still in elementary school and I heartily recommend them all for families looking for something they can enjoy together.

You may also enjoy these other books in the Fear and Sunshine series:

All books can be purchased through Amazon by clicking on their images.