“It was the summer that Rosemary Bliss turned ten that she saw her mother fold a lightning bolt into a bowl of batter.” And so begins Kathryn Littlewood’s middle-grade novel, Bliss, which whisks readers into a world of magic and mayhem.
The story centres around 12-year-old Rose, whose mother is a kitchen magician. Her baking can cure all kinds of problems. She mixes lightning into a cake to help a boy who was electrocuted. She adds the yawn of a weasel to snickerdoodles to stop someone from sleepwalking. And, the tail of a cloud is baked into macaroons to lift a man out of a well in which he's been trapped.
This is a world where anything is possible, but to our heroine's chagrin, magic is strictly off-limits to her and her siblings. I won't give too much away, except to say that when her parents leave town for a week, Rose is instructed to keep the ancient family cookbook under lock and key. But, when a long-lost relative appears, Rose and her brother dig out the recipes and begin mixing up Love Muffins and Cookies of Truth. That's when chaos ensues in their small town.
Littlewood is exquisitely detailed in her writing: the opening scene in which Rose's parents catch lightning in a mason jar is spectacular. The magical recipes from the family cookbook—shared in their entirety with readers—makes one want to start baking right away. There's the wonder of discovering a hidden passageway of enchanted ingredients, with jars labelled 'Warlock’s Eye' and 'Dwarf of Perpetual Sleep'. And, readers will be brimming with anticipation at Rose's first attempt at magic. The batter in her mixing bowl trembles and shakes and sizzles and sparks. She realizes that, “these were no Betty Crocker zucchini muffins.”
Bliss is a delicious, lighthearted blend of magic and adventure. Rose is an entirely believable heroine who is trying to find her place in her family and the world. The results of her magic-gone-wrong are both humorous and harmless; there isn't anything to frighten young readers. It's a perfect read for ages 8 and up.
The book does end on a cliffhanger, setting up the storyline for two sequels. Kate started the trilogy when it was first published in 2012, and had an agonizingly long wait for the rest of the books to find out what happens. Luckily, readers today don't have to wait to follow up on Rose’s adventures in Dash of Magic and Bite-Sized Magic.
When it comes to books about soccer, Dylan has read all kinds—picture books, chapter books, novels, graphic novels and biographies. Now, thanks to author Kwame Alexander, he can add poetry to the list.
We had been browsing the aisles of Powell's Books in Portland looking for something new for Dylan to read when one of the staff handed him a copy of Alexander's Booked.
“You might like this,” she suggested.
When I realized it was a novel in verse, I hesitated. Dylan is not always adventurous about new or challenging books, and I wasn’t sure poems would interest him.
That’s when I learned an important lesson: don’t assume you know what your child wants to read.
“Sure, I’ll try it,” he said, persuaded by the image of the soccer player on the cover.
A few days later, Booked was still on his shelf. I asked him about it, assuming he hadn't tried it.
“Oh, I finished it. It was good,” he said.
He read a book of poems in less than two days? And he liked it? I had to pick up Booked myself, out of curiosity. It was so mesmerizing that I finished it in one sitting.
Booked is about 12-year-old Nick Hall, who loves soccer, hates reading, and is coping with his parents’ separation. He's also struggling to deal with bullies and his first crush. It’s an ordinary coming-of-age story, but told in an extraordinary way.
His journey unfolds through poems of varying styles. The poems are fast-paced, rhythmic, and thoughtful. They’re funny, provocative, and heartbreaking. Even the choice of typeface, font and layout makes them visually engaging on the page. The book is a vibrant celebration of words.
In an interview with Reading Rockets, Alexander explained the appeal of this form of writing.
“Poetry is like the human soul entire distilled into very few words and they’re power packed. You can get a whole beginning, middle, and end in 10 lines,” he said. “Poetry, because of the language we choose, because of the metaphors we use, we can make the reader feel something pretty powerful in those few words.”
For example, this poem reflects Nick's pain over his mother moving out of the house:
It does not take
a math genius
to understand that
when you subtract
from the equation
Alexander cleverly uses sport to entice readers to discover poetry. It's effective. Having broadened his reading horizons, Dylan has now added two more of Alexander's novels in verse to his reading list: the Newbery Medal-winning The Crossover, and the just-published sequel Rebound.
Poems can be intimidating for some, but Booked is immensely approachable, and shows us how cool poetry can be.
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.