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Middle Grade Novel Spotlight Post – The Last Dragon by James Riley

THE LAST DRAGON

By James Riley

Book #2 of The Revenge of Magic

(Aladdin; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

The Last Dragon book cover

 

MY TAKE:

Perfect for fans of Dungeons and Dragons and Stranger Things, THE LAST DRAGON went on sale this past Monday, Oct. 8. This is the second novel, which can be read as a standalone, in New York Times bestselling author James Riley’s thrilling new series The Revenge of Magic.

When I read that this particular installment was “packed with mystery, magic, and mayhem sure to keep readers guessing until the very end,” I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to get started. In doing so I was rewarded with an action-packed story that introduced me to likeable and not-so-likeable characters, the Oppenheimer School for magical training, and an assortment of creatures and adventures that kept me turning the pages of this new middle grade fantasy. I don’t often read the second book in a series without having read the first, but was immediately swept into the main character Fort’s quest to rescue his father who had been taken by evil beings called the Old Ones in an attack on the National Mall in D.C.

Once I was eager to know what would happen to Fort and his friends Jia, Rachel, Cyrus and Sierra, I also became invested in the dangerous and risky journey being planned. When a new student, Gabriel, was introduced, I also had to know how he fit into the picture. Would he be a help or hindrance to his roommate, Fort? What did it mean that he too was haunted by nightmares similar to those that Fort kept having?

The novel has some clever scenes where telepathy plays a big role. If I say too much more it will spoil things. Teleporting also features largely in The Last Dragon and the descriptions are fantastic. I almost felt I could do it. And in some scenes, like those in London or New York, I could easily picture everything because of Riley’s deft writing. The way magic is used in this novel not only advances the plot, but feels believable and that matters when myriad novels include magic. There’s humor that tweens will appreciate too. I love how, for example, before Fort sets off to find his father, he makes sure to take a pee stop. A lot of the banter, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes funny, but mostly important, between the friends also feels real.

If your child is interested in an entertaining and super satisfying fantasy that delivers on all fronts, I’d recommend the The Last Dragon, book #2 in the The Revenge of Magic series. Now I just have to go back and read the first book!

 

SUMMARY:

Fort Fitzgerald can’t stop having nightmares about the day his father was taken from him in an attack on Washington, DC. In these dreams, an Old One, an evil beyond comprehension, demands the location of the last dragon. But other than some dragon skeletons dug up with the books of magic on Discovery Day, Fort has never seen a dragon before. Could there still be one left alive?

And weirdly, Fort’s not the only one at the Oppenheimer School having these nightmares. His new roommate, Gabriel, seems to know more than he’s letting on about this dragon as well. And why does everyone at the school seem to do whatever Gabriel says? What’s his secret?

Fort’s going to need the help of his friends Cyrus, Jia, and Rachel, if he’s going to have any chance of keeping the Old Ones from returning to Earth. Unless, the Old Ones offer something Fort could never turn down …

Buy the book from Once Upon A Time bookstore here to support a local independent retailer.

Buy the book from Indie Bound here.

Find out more about The Last Dragon here.

 

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Picture Book Review – Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang

 

AMY WU AND THE PERFECT BAO
Written by Kat Zhang,
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
(Aladdin; $17.99, Ages 4 and up)

 

Amy Wu and the perfect bao cvr

 

As all budding young chefs and their parents know, it’s not easy getting a recipe just right. In the new picture book, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, these delicious dumplings are Amy’s nemesis. There are a lot of things that can go wrong; luckily, Amy’s Chinese-American family has got it down and will teach her step by step.

 

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Interior artwork from Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao written by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Aladdin ©2019.

 

High-spirited Amy will appeal to kids who like expressive, relatable, and funny main characters (à la Fancy Nancy). Amy is skillful at many tasks—including eating bao all day—but it’s frustrating that her bao just don’t turn out right.

 

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Interior artwork from Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao written by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua, Aladdin ©2019.

 

Charlena Chua captures Amy’s personality in the lively illustrations, from silly expressions (trying to tie her shoes while brushing her teeth) to earnest ones (focused on pinching the dough just right). Throughout, a cute white cat follows Amy’s escapades.

Kat Zhang’s uplifting story shows that imperfection tastes just as good and, with a little bit of ingenuity, kids can solve their problems by trying something new. Amy’s resourcefulness left me smiling; kids are amazing.

The book concludes with a time-consuming (3+ hours) but mouth-watering, in other words worth it, recipe for bao that I tested with my daughter. We appreciated the tip about cooking a spoonful of filling before making the dumplings—great advice which allowed us to adjust the flavors. Enjoy!

 

Read another review by Christine here.

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Kids Can Start Businesses Too

Daryl Bernstein wrote the original edition of  Better Than a Lemonade Stand: Small Business Ideas for Kids ($16.99, Aladdin/Atheneum Books, Ages 9 and up) when he was only 15 years old. Since then, he has polished his book, updated the information and added more detail.  Most of us are now familiar with the story of Alexandra Scott, who at the age of 4, started a lemonade stand to raise money  for cancer that is now a multi-million dollar charity known as Alex’s Lemonade StandHer story is heartwarming and inspiring.

With the today’s technology, the opportunities for kids to start businesses are seemingly endless. Better Than a Lemonade Stand lists 56 small business ideas. Going over the list, I can sense that some of the ideas are better for older kids than younger ones, such as a new product assembler or a store window painter, someone who paints ads, holiday greetings and such on store windows. It doesn’t seem likely that a store owner would hire a 9-year-old to do those jobs. In any event, the wholesome list of business ideas is wonderfully broad, and at least one is sure to inspire your child and tap into his or her talents.

Each business idea comes with an explanation of duties, time needed to do the job, what to charge, how to advertise and also lists some hints about how to most efficiently do the work. At the beginning of the book, Bernstein also touches upon cautions that young business owners must take, a list of lessons for entrepreneurs and tips on starting and running a business, such as choosing a name, buying supplies, billing and more.  I thoroughly enjoyed the inspirational stories from kids who started their own businesses. There are additional resources listed in the back of the book as well.

What I like about Better Than a Lemonade Stand is that it really gets kids thinking about what it takes to make a living, and more importantly, how hard their parents have to work to pay for housing, food, cars and their education. The most successful people I’ve ever met are the ones who were self-motivated as children, resourceful and hard-working. Today, many of us parents want our kids to have the best, so we don’t always make them work for what they want. I think there’s a nice balance between receiving gifts and earning money to buy these things for one’s self. Clearly children who are willing to work for what they want seem to appreciate what they have even more. By starting their own ventures, they will also learn to think creatively, build their confidence and ultimately hone their math skills. How wonderful is that?

Debbie Glade reviewed today’s book and appreciates that her daughter Rachel works during summers when not at university.

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