Nooks & Crannies

Greetings, earthlings. I realize it’s been a while since my last post, and the reason for my absence can be explained in two words–book fair. Yes, my spring book fair pretty much consumed my life for about ten days, and I barely had the energy to drive home from work and fall into bed, much less form coherent thoughts about what I was reading. But I was reading during this stressful event, and I bring you my thoughts on my latest read today.

Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson was recently named as a nominee for the 2017-18 South Carolina Children’s Book Award. It’s being marketed as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets Clue, and I’d say that’s a fairly fitting description. It’s funny, perplexing, sometimes infuriating, and rather entertaining. I look forward to discussing this book with my students and getting their take on this engrossing and somewhat convoluted mystery.

Tabitha Crum never expected a piece of paper to change her life. But when she and five other children are invited to the estate of the Countess of Windemere, she knows some type of change is coming. Maybe that’s a good thing. After all, her life thus far has been anything but grand. Her parents barely tolerate her presence, her only friend is a mouse named Pemberley, and her future may involve washing dishes at the local orphanage.

When Tabitha arrives at Hollingsworth Hall, she quickly realizes that all is not what it seems…and her inner detective comes to life. She and the other five children have been invited here for a very specific reason–something that rocks them all to their cores–but the eccentric Countess appears to have more sinister motives for this invitation. And when, one by one, the children begin disappearing, Tabitha knows she–and her trusty mouse, Pemberley–must investigate all of the strange happenings around her.

What–or who–could be to blame for this unfolding mystery? Could the rumored ghosts that inhabit the manor truly exist? Is the butler responsible, or could it be the Countess herself? Whatever’s going on, Tabitha is determined to get to the bottom of it, but even she may be unprepared for what she uncovers.

Secrets will be revealed, and those secrets could have the power to change Tabitha’s life and the lives of those around her. What will Tabitha discover in the nooks and crannies of Hollingsworth Hall? You’ll have to see for yourself…

As is the case in many children’s books similar to this one, most of the adults in the book are absolutely horrendous. This is especially true of Tabitha Crum’s parents. I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and give both of them a good shake. Truly horrible people. The same is true for many of the other adults depicted…and some of their kids as well. (The apple doesn’t fall far, does it?) Luckily, those bad apples ultimately get what’s coming to them in the end, so karma (or the Golden Rule, if you prefer) is, in my opinion, a big deal in this book.

I think Nooks & Crannies is a great selection for upper elementary and middle grade readers–or anyone who likes a good mystery, really. I also think this book might make for a good class read-aloud. A book like this one is sure to keep kids engaged and eager for more.

If you like Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, or Sherlock Holmes, you’ll find something to love in Nooks & Crannies. I found this book to be charming, thrilling, delightfully whimsical, and absorbing. I’m hoping my students feel the same way. (If I do my job well promoting the book, I’m sure they will.)

To learn more about Nooks & Crannies and Jessica Lawson, visit the author’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Sometime next week, I’ll put together a book trailer for this book. If you’d like to see it when I finally post it, visit my YouTube channel.

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall

In the coming months, Knight Reader may start to have a bit of a different feel.  I will still be reviewing young adult novels, but I also plan to post more for upper elementary and middle grade readers.  I will start this by focusing on the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees (which I have to read anyway since I promote this SCBA program at my own elementary school).  Many of these books, while targeted to younger readers, may also be of interest to teen and even adult readers.  One of next year’s SCCBA nominees, Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, has already been reviewed here, so this may not be too much of a departure for me.  We’ll see how it goes…

Mary Downing Hahn is known for her ghost stories.  My students at school know to go to the H section in fiction if they want a good spooky tale, and they’ve already begun to devour The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall, one of Hahn’s newest books.  This book, which takes place in the late 19th century, is one that will definitely appeal to children, especially those in 4th grade on up, who like their fiction with a bit of terror thrown in.

Florence Crutchfield, a twelve-year-old living in a London orphanage, gets the surprise of her life when she’s sent to live with her great-uncle at his country manor house, Crutchfield Hall.  Life at Crutchfield Hall is very different from Florence’s time at the orphanage.  She has a warm place to sleep, and there’s always enough food.  Florence’s uncle is happy to have her there, but her aunt seems to hate her on site.  Why is there so much animosity from her aunt?  What could Florence have possibly done to deserve so much hatred?

Well, it seems that Florence’s aunt, a crazed and bitter woman, thinks Florence is trying to replace Sophia, Florence’s young cousin who died in a horrible accident nearly a year ago.  Aunt Eugenie makes Florence’s life miserable and constantly compares her to the seemingly perfect Sophia.  Florence is not even allowed to see James, her other cousin and Sophia’s younger brother.  (He grew very weak and sickly following Sophia’s death.)  Florence feels more alone now than she ever did at the orphanage, but she’s not alone…not at all.

Florence soon realizes Sophia is not entirely gone from Crutchfield Hall.  The ghost of her cousin is haunting Florence, James, and even members of the household staff.  Sophia has the power to make Florence do almost anything she wants…and that includes terrorizing those around her and finding a way to recreate her death so that someone else takes the fall that killed her.

Can Florence–and James–find a way to stop Sophia from wreaking havoc at Crutchfield Hall?  Can they banish her ghost forever?  Will Sophia ever really rest in peace?  Unravel the mystery when you read The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hahn, a nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award.

While I did find this book to be spooky, and I think the majority of my students in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades (the target audience for the SCCBA) will enjoy it, I do think there are some elements of the story, particularly the literary allusions, that may be more appropriate for older readers.  I don’t know many elementary school students who will understand the references to the works of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and others of the time.  Yes, this book could lead them to those works, but they are still, in my opinion, books for older readers.  (I’m in my thirties, and I’m still not a fan of Dickens.) 

Other than that small gripe, I think The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is a great read for kids, teens, and adults.  My students are already fans, and every copy of this book stays checked out of my library.  (I only got to read it this weekend because it’s the end of the school year, and books are getting turned in.)  Even though this book is on the SCCBA nominee list, I also think it’s perfect for reluctant readers in middle and high schools.  It’s short, quick, and engaging, and, like I said previously, it could serve as a push to dive into meatier works.

The Ghost of Crutchfield Hall is the first book I’ve read by Mary Downing Hahn, but I can almost guarantee it won’t be the last.

The King’s Rose


Isn’t that a beautiful cover?  Alisa M. Libby’s book, The King’s Rose, is a fictional account of the short life of Catherine Howard, one of the wives of King Henry VIII.  Like many other people, I knew very little about Catherine Howard.  Her story is often overshadowed by that of her more famous cousin and previous queen, Anne Boleyn.  This book helped to shed some light on this frequently overlooked wife of Henry VIII.

While the ghost of her cousin Anne’s crimes do haunt Catherine throughout this book, they are not the only things that plague this young queen.  Catherine can feel the ghosts of her predecessors crowding around her, but she is determined to be the best queen she can be, even though she is only fifteen years old when she marries Henry.  She is pressured by her family to conceal her previous indiscretions and present herself to Henry as one who is completely pure, both of body and heart.  She is also being watched constantly to see if she will become pregnant with an heir to the throne.  With all of these pressures on her young shoulders, it is inevitable that something will give.  When those around Catherine begin to reveal her past sins to the King and his advisors, she is doomed.  Even so, she hopes that Henry’s love for her will save her life. 

If you know anything about British history, you know that Catherine’s hopes were in vain.  She was the second of Henry’s wives to be executed.  The King’s Rose, however, does provide the reader with a glimpse of what life as the King’s teen bride might have been like.  I, for one, cannot imagine putting that much responsibility on the shoulders of a teenage girl (or even a woman in full adulthood).  While much of the story is fictionalized, most events have basis in fact (as can be seen in the author’s note).  Libby has done an excellent job of telling the story of one of Britain’s tragic figures, Catherine Howard.