Kingdom of Secrets by Christyne Morrell

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Kingdom of Secrets
Author: Christyne Morrell
Expected Publication August 3rd, 2021 by Delacorte Press

Summary: Prismena’s father is the hot air balloonist in the peaceful kingdom of Oren. She assists him by mending torn balloons, but she yearns to build and fly the complicated machines herself. One day, a waif named Abi steals Prissy’s only remaining memento of her deceased mother – a silk scarf – and promises to return it only if Prissy smuggles a mysterious box onto one of her father’s flights. Since balloon travel is strictly regulated in Oren, that single act of rebellion results in her father’s arrest and kicks off a spiraling series of events that will yank Prissy out of her predictable life.

Along the way to free her father from jail, she’ll get caught up in a bar fight, nabbed by a sadistic schoolmistress, tossed into a home for unwanted children, schooled in the art of stealing, and thrust into the center of a brewing rebellion. On her journey through Oren – with its glitzy neighborhoods and its seedy underbelly – Prismena will uncover secrets that change the way she views her family, her kingdom, herself, and even her beloved hot air balloons. She’ll have to break a few rules – and even forge metal – to save the people she loves, but she may also get a chance to soar.

About the Author: Christyne Morrell is a children’s book author and attorney. She lives in Decatur, Georgia with her husband, daughter, and hyperactive beagle. Christyne has been writing poems and stories since she could hold a pencil, but KINGDOM OF SECRETS (Delacorte 2021) is her debut middle-grade novel. 

Christyne is also the author of the picture book Abra, Cadabra & Bob (Clear Fork Publishing 2019), and her work has appeared in Highlights, Spider, and The School Magazine. She can be found online at christynewrites.com and on Twitter and Instagram at @ChristyneWrites. Christyne is represented by Danielle Chiotti at Upstart Crow Literary.

Review: When I started reading this book, it caught me right away because Abi comes out of nowhere, blackmails Prissy, then her dad gets arrested, and really I truly had no idea what was going on! Since the book is in Prissy’s point of view it gives the reader the suspense and disbelief that Prismena has as the story begins. This makes you want to just keep reading to figure everything out.

Then, add in a second story about a mysterious young lady named Wren from the past that will crash land into the main story in a very unexpected way–it just sucks the reader in more!

In addition to the plot, I found the characters intriguing and very well crafted. The development of Prismena is definitely the highlight as she learns how to be on her own and have her own thoughts, but even the secondary characters had stories that Morrell found time to tell in the book. I do wish I knew more about Abi’s life, but maybe that will come in another book!

I also think the book is timely as it looks at government corruption and propaganda based in fear of others and loss of power. Because of Prismena’s ignorance, we get to experience the realizations as she does, so this allows for good discussions about these topics without bringing up current events.

I am pretty picky about high fantasy, but this one is one of my recent favorites, and I cannot wait to share it with my students!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: The author’s website has a plethora of extra information to bring great discussions about this book to your classroom or book club!

First, there is an interview with balloonists which goes more into the science of the balloons, how Prissy’s valves would work, and other fun balloon anecdotes.

Second, she has Kingdom of Secret themed activities that are engineering, robotics, and science focused! These include making their own Dress Fit for a Queen, Rubber Band Flying Machine, Hot Air Balloon, and Mini-Catapult.

Finally, she has a section on “Fun Facts and Further Research” that looks at balloon history and fashion.

(And side note: I love a good map of a high fantasy setting, and the author gives us a very detailed and beautiful map of Oren.)

Discussion Questions: The Kingdom of Secrets Book Club Discussion Guide is available now and includes discussion questions such as:

  • At the beginning of A Blood Red Smile, a little girl treats Prissy like a celebrity because she’s the “balloonist’s daughter.” Later, Marybeth does the same. Why do you think that is?
  • Mr. Dudley is arrested for having “contraband,” including rubber. It may seem silly to you that something as common as rubber would be considered dangerous. Why do you think King Michael feels that rubber and other simple inventions are threatening?
  • When they first meet, Prissy and Abi don’t get along. Why not? What are some of their differences? What do they have in common? What changes over the course of the book that leads to them becoming friends?

Note: Some of the discussion questions in the complete guide are spoilers!!

Book Trailer:

Flagged Passages: Chapter 1. The Stranger and the Scarf

Abigail Smeade arrived like a black eye: sudden, fierce, and blossoming under my skin. When I met her, I was sitting in the shade of an old oak tree, minding my own business. I’d just removed a burlap sack from a hollow in the tree’s trunk and poured its contents out in the grass–scraps of metal, twisted brackets, and a few strips of a stretchy material called rubber. Most people would’ve described those things as junk fit for the bin, but I knew better. Pieced together just right, that “junk” would become more than the sum of its parts. And figuring out which way was just right happened to be one of my favorite pastimes.

But Father didn’t like me tinkering with the odds and ends I gathered (and sometimes even pinched from his workshop). It wasn’t proper, he said, and making something nobody had ever seen before might get a person looked at twice, which was the last thing we wanted. That’s why I kept my collection stashed inside an oak tree in the middle of Fletcher’s field. Nobody but Mr. Fletcher and me ever wandered into that field anymore, if you didn’t count the sheep.

At the bottom of the bundle, rolled up tight, was a scarf, a single piece of fabric more precious than all the rest of it put together. I unfurled it across my knees, and the silk shone and rippled like running water. It was cool to the touch, but the pattern–in shades of blue and yellow and purple–made me think of places drenched in sun. The kind of faraway places Mother liked to visit when she was flying hot-air balloons. In fact, the scarf had been a souvenir from one of her trips. She’d had a weakness for beautiful, unnecessary things. She’d filled the house with them once.

“Peanut brittle?”

Startled, I crumpled the scarf and crammed it back into the sack. Then I whipped my head left and right, hunting for the owner of that voice. It wasn’t until I looked up that I spotted her, sitting on a branch of the tree and kicking her legs like she was lounging on a swing. She peered down at me with shrewd, glittering brown eyes. Without prompting, she extended a half-eaten shard of candy through the leaves. It glistened with a semicircle of saliva where she’d taken the last bite.

“No, thanks,” I said.

“Your loss.” She wedged the peanut brittle into the far reaches of her mouth and cracked off a piece. It rattled against her teeth as she spoke. “What’s that?” She pointed down at one of my projects, something I was still trying to get just right. A small flying machine I’d made using those strips of rubber Mr. Dudley had given me.

“Excuse me . . . who are you?” I asked. She looked about my age–long-limbed and gangly, with light brown skin. Her hair had been pulled into a ponytail that erupted at the back of her head in a burst of copper corkscrews. She wore several layers of clothes–an apple-green vest, a striped jacket two sizes too small, and two gauzy skirts that looked like petticoats that had been dyed pink and cut short. Her scuffed boots kicked at the air over my head.

“Abigail Smeade, at your service,” she said. “You can call me Abi.” She smiled with a mouth full of crowded, crooked teeth, each one shoving its way to the front. She stretched her arm down to me again, this time offering her long, tapered fingers for a handshake. As though it were completely normal to meet someone while perched in a tree. I unpretzeled my legs and stood on tiptoes to give her hand a single uninspired shake.

“I’m Prismena,” I said. “What are you doing here?”

“Same as you,” she said. “Trespassing.”

(Read more of this excerpt at https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/652736/kingdom-of-secrets-by-christyne-morrell/)

Read This If You Love: The Land of Stories books by Chris Colfer, The Trouble with Shooting Stars by Meg Cannistra, A Tear in the Ocean by H.M. Bouwman, and other middle grade fantasy books

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to the author and publisher for providing a copy for review!**

Sofia’s Kids’ Corner: The Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

This book is especially for the Katherine Applegate fans! I present to you . . . The Wishtree by Katherine Applegate! This book is also a Teachers’ Pick on Amazon!!! This book is recommended for ages 8-12.

Red is a wishtree. His friend, Bongo, the crow, is one of his residents as you might say because she lives in Red. Red is the town’s wishtree so he gets covered in paper scraps and cloth that is carefully tied onto his branches with wishes for the future. Some of his other inhabitants are a family of owls, a family of opossums and a family of racoons. At night time a girl from a family that just moved in goes outside and sits quietly and waits for Red’s inhabitants to scurry forward. Bongo likes the girl, her name is Samar. When it’s wishing day, Samar ties a wish on Red that reads “I wish for a friend”. Will the wishtree be able to make up a scheme to help Samar’s wish come true?

I love this book for its really cute illustrations. They are remarkable even though they are not colored. They look more like pencil drawings but great ones at that! When I read this book I feel my heart warm up. This is such an amazing book and Katherine Applegate did an awesome job writing this book! I just can not express how much I love this book! The author wrote this book from an unexpected point of view. Who would have thought to write a book coming from the perspective of a tree! The perspective is fun because we are simply not trees, we will never be trees. It is exciting to imagine how something like a tree would think. Of course, like almost all of the Katherine Applegate books, there is a bit of humour just to keep the mood happy! I hope that you love this book as much as I do!

If you loved this book then I highly recommend Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate! The Wishtree by Katherine Applegate is similar to Crenshaw because it is the same type of heartwarming story. The problem is not the same but Crenshaw will touch your heart like The Wishtree.

 

**Thanks so much, Sofia. This book holds a special place in our hearts, too.**

 

Sofia’s Kids’ Corner: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

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Sofia is a 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

Introducing the best book ever: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart! This is a wonderful read and I highly recommend it! This is a very adventurous and funny book. The writer has a wonderful writing style but some of the words are difficult to understand, and you need an advanced vocabulary to follow this book. I had to look up a few words in my dictionary while reading this. This book is recommended for ages 9-12.

Reynie is an orphan. He gets a tutor for school because he has already finished all of the orphanage’s high school curriculum. Reynie likes to read the newspaper. One day an ad in the newspaper calls for gifted children searching for special opportunities. It is a weird ad because it sounds like it is being written directly to children. Reynie thinks this is odd because almost no children read newspapers. To get the special opportunities Reynie has to take a test. There are many time slots available on the weekend so Reynie and his tutor, Miss Perumal, sign him up for the first session of the test. After Reynie arrives the next morning he only has to wait a few minutes. Just after he finishes the first test the test administrator tells him the test is over. When the test administrator calls the names of the people who passed the test Reynie is startled that he is the only one in that room who did. On his way to the second test he sees a girl who drops her pencil into a sewer grate. He thinks it is weird and when he helps her she offers him the answer key. Reynie declines and passes the test without her help. Much to his surprise the girl with the answer key does NOT pass! On his way to the third test he meets another kid named Sticky. He is a super fast reader and everything that he reads sticks in his head. They talk while they wait for the test and Sticky says someone in his test ALSO dropped her pencil! They are very surprised and become even more scared when a third kid enters the room and also had a kid drop her pencil and offer her the answer key. The girl who just entered is called Kate. She is very tall and always carries a bucket with her.

When they finally pass the third and fourth test they eat. They meet a new girl whose name is Constance, she is really small. Then they meet a mysterious man called Mr. Benedict. He tells them about mysterious messages that are being sent to confuse people’s minds. Mr. Benedict tells them that a man named Ledroptha Curtain is behind the messages. He also tells them that Mr. Curtain runs an institute and that he will send them there to go undercover so they can stop the messages. Follow Reynie on the rest of his exciting journey and help him save the world! Also, figure out if Mr. Benedict is to be trusted!

The many laughs this book gave me was only one of the amazing things about this book. This book was very fun to read and as more awkward characters joined the story it became even more hilarious! I do not know if I would consider this book realistic fiction even though I am pretty sure this could happen in real life. The characters are very clever, they even used Morse code to save the day! This is one of the best books I have ever read for sure, and I highly recommend it!

 

 

Sofia’s Kids’ Corner: Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani

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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Dear readers,

Imagine how excited I was when I figured out Nidhi Chanani, the author of Pashmina, came up with a new book! I was dying to get my hands on that book and thanks to the Macmillan publishing house, I have! (Thanks so much Macmillan!) Introducing Jukebox by Nidhi Chanani! This graphic novel is recommended for ages 10-14.

When Shaheen’s music loving father goes missing she starts to panic. She starts to feel really bad because of all of the bad things she did to her dad. At first her family just thinks he is out for a long time but when days pass they start to worry. Her babysitter takes her out to distract her and they get a snack. After a long time passes Shaheen gets worried and drags her babysitter to her dad’s music shop. They have to break into their dad’s shop because it is closed and get scared when they see Shaheen’s dad’s glasses on the floor. They go upstairs to explore. You have to read the book though to see what kind of secrets they uncover!

I love this book because of the colors. This is about the most colorful graphic novel I have seen in my life and that is SAYING SOMETHING.That is one of my favorite things about this book because when the scene is really sad you still can not help feeling happy because of the flourishing colors and your mind can not decide whether you should be happy or sad. This is definitely one of those books to lighten your mood. I also love this book because the author is making a graphic novel mystery, something that you come across very little. This is a truly unique book! I hope that you enjoy this book too!

**Thanks so much to Sofia for giving us an advanced review of this book! We were excited to see it came out this week!**

Aven Green, Sleuthing Machine by Dusti Bowling, Illustrated by Gina Perry

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Aven Green, Sleuthing Machine
Author: Dusti Bowling
Illustrator: Gina Perry
Published April 13th, 2021 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: Third-grader Aven Green has been solving mysteries for a whole month—cracking such cases as The Mystery of the Cranky Mom. But can this perceptive detective solve two cases at the same time? First her teacher’s lunch bag disappears. Then Aven’s great-grandma’s dog goes missing. Fortunately, since Aven was born without arms, all the “arm” cells went to her super-powered brain instead. (That’s her theory.) This hilarious chapter book showcases a new side to Dusti Bowling’s unforgettable protagonist.

About the Creators:

DUSTI BOWLING is the award-winning, bestselling author of Insignificant Events in the Life of a CactusMomentous Events in the Life of a Cactus24 Hours in NowhereThe Canyon’s Edge, and the forthcoming Across the Desert and Aven Green chapter book series. Dusti currently lives in New River, Arizona with her husband, three daughters, a dozen tarantulas, a gopher snake named Burrito, a king snake name Death Noodle, and a cockatiel named Gandalf the Grey.

Gina Perry graduated from Syracuse University, worked as a compositor in animation, then an art director for a stationery manufacturer, before discovering her true passion—writing and illustrating children’s books. She lives with her family in NH.

Praise:

“[Bowling] infuses her writing with humor and empathy.” —School Library Journal (starred) 

“A fun series opener with a feisty protagonist who’ll keep readers on their toes.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Unapologetically smart and refreshingly confident in her abilities, this super-sleuth extraordinaire is a joy to tag along with.” —Booklist

“Aven’s candid voice ensures that this chapter book series starter will draw a young audience.” —Publishers Weekly

Review: I am so happy that Aven is now starring in chapter books. Her voice is one of my favorites in middle grade literature because it is full of truth and humor. Her voice is just as strong in this chapter book as it was in Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus, just a bit younger.

In addition to Aven’s voice, the story is a compelling one! I’m a fan of mysteries, and this is a fun kid lit mystery. Also, the cast of characters are wonderful! I am a huge fan of Aven’s friends.

And I cannot wait until August when Aven Green, Baking Machine comes out!

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I would love to see Aven Green read in classrooms! It would be such a fun book to read together as a class! The class could even keep track of all of the clues and see if they can figure out the mystery!

There are also opportunities in the book to talk about acronyms and word play!

Discussion Questions: 

  • How did Aven keep track of her clues?
  • What type of materials does Aven need to be a good detective?
  • How did Aven help Sujata with acclimating with the new school?
  • What are your slumber party traditions?
  • What is a time you have heard a word incorrectly like Emily heard hen droids?
  • Have you ever lost something? How did you work to find it?
  • If you were going to do a report on a country

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: The Magnificent Makers series by Theanne Griffith; King and Kayla series by Dori Hillestad Butler; The Misadventures of Toni Macaroni in The Mad Scientists by Cetonia Weston-Roy; The Misadventures of Salem Hyde series by Frank Cammuso; Meena series by Karla Manternach; Questioneers series by Andrea Beaty; Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi; A Boy Called Bat series by Elana K. Arnold

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to Sterling for providing a copy for review!**

Sofia’s Kids’ Corner: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

 

Dear readers,

If you are looking for a book that takes place maybe 100 years ago then this is the book for you. The book, Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk takes place in 1925! It is an amazing historical fiction adventure about a girl, named Crow, who is curious about where she came from and who her parents are. I recommend this book for 10-13 year olds. By the way, when I started reading this book I was a bit confused, but after maybe the thirtieth page I understood everything. I am saying this so you don’t get discouraged in the first few pages.

When Crow was a newborn baby she got sent off on a skiff and landed on a beach where a person nicknamed Osh took her in and cared for her. Osh’s neighbour, Miss Maggie, came over every day to help him with Crow and bring her gifts. As Crow grew older she began to wonder more about her background, where she came from and who her parents were. Ever since she lived on the island everybody avoided her except for Miss Maggie and Osh. Due to her mysterious appearance a lot of people thought she was from Penikese, an island where a few years before people sick with leprosy, a bad sickness that can kill people, were sent to live in. She gets even more curious about her background when a mysterious fire appears on Penikese. She tells Osh about it and tells him that she wants to go there. Osh says that is just the old bird keeper and that all is ok on the island but she convinces him to go there anyway. If you were wondering, Penikese is burnt down when he says that. A few days later when they go to the island they meet a big mad man. He claims to be the bird keeper, but Crow heard a clunk before he came to greet them that makes her suspicious. Do you think something is wrong with that acclaimed bird keeper and the clunk or do you think that it was nothing?

I love this book because of the different lifestyle she lives. She basically lives in a cottage made of pieces of ships that got shipwrecked. She also lives a different life because she is homeschooled and because she helps out on a farm anytime she wants for fun. I also love this book because no matter how weird it seems, a lot of people can relate to Crow! For example I related to Crow when she sees the fire on Penikese island and wants to investigate it, I would do that too. Enjoy the ride!

If you liked this book then you might want to check out The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart, which I wrote a review about last week! The characters are alike in the way that they both don’t really live a normal life.

**Thanks so much to Sofia for this review! We love historical fiction, and we are excited to feature this one on the blog!**

 

Sofia’s Kids’ Corner: The Amelia Six by Kristin L. Gray

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Sofia is an 9-year-old brilliant reader who aspires to be a book reviewer. On select Saturdays, Sofia shares her favorite books with kids! She is one of the most well-read elementary schoolers that we know, so she is highly qualified for this role!

Published June 30, 2020

Dear readers,

This book, called The Amelia Six by Kristin L. Gray is soooooo cool but also a bit scary, so I will warn you: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK BEFORE YOU GO TO BED! I literally had to hide under the covers and only leave a little hole so I could breathe! This book is recommended for ages 8-12.

Millie along with five other girls is invited to spend the night at Amelia Earhart’s house! Millie’s dad drops her off in the middle of a big snowstorm which will last the whole night and tells her that he is only one call away. When she arrives she thinks the building is beautiful and goes inside it. There she meets the five other girls named Thea, Natalie, Cassie, Robin and Wren. The person who basically runs the house is called Birdie. Birdie takes the six girls on a tour of the house and she tells the girls to pick their bedrooms but Amelia Earhart’s room is off limits. When Mille looks for her room she opens a door by mistake and in a glass box in the room there are Amelia Earhart’s goggles! Then the girls, along with Birdie, go downstairs and have a wonderful meal. Some of the dishes that the chef prepared were Amelia’s favorite back in the day. After that they go on a scavenger hunt and Millie realizes that Amelia’s goggles are gone! At first she and her partner Wren think it’s part of the game but when Birdie gets poisoned they know it’s not part of the game. To make matters worse Mille was the last person who saw them so all fingers are pointing at her!

I love this book so much because of how the story affected my mood. You see, no other book that I have ever read made me hide under the covers or look twice in the hallway in my house and then flee to get to the bathroom to brush my teeth! Also, this book basically begged me to read on! If I decided that I was going to read one last chapter I would probably break my promise because most of the chapters ended like this! “And that’s when a hand grabbed my arm.” or “And the whole house grew dark.”. Seriously! I can tell you that the only time that I actually decided to go to bed while reading this book was when the words started dancing all over the page and my head kept helplessly flopping to the side. So that meant that I was really tired and thanks to this book that was around 11:30 pm! Have fun!

**Thanks so much to Sofia for this review! We will be sure to read it well before our bedtimes!**