The Humming Room

It is with great shame that I admit that I haven’t read some of the classics of children’s literature. (I’ve only been an elementary librarian for three years, so give me a bit of a break.) One of the books that escaped my notice as a child–and an adult–was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I think I remember seeing a film adaptation of the book when I was younger, but it must not have had enough robots, aliens, or other supernatural creatures to hold my interest. (I haven’t changed much since I was a kid.)

Anyway, I’m now reading the books nominated for the 2013-2014 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, and one of them, The Humming Room by Ellen Potter, is inspired by The Secret Garden. Of course, I went into this book with very little knowledge of what happened in The Secret Garden (and I assume many of my students will have a similar reading experience). After reading The Humming Room, though, I find myself wanting to read its inspiration. I’m hoping the same will be true of my students.

In The Humming Room, we meet young Roo Fanshaw. Roo has not had an easy life so far. She has no memory of her mother, and her father and his girlfriend were recently killed while Roo hid underneath the house. (Roo is an expert hider, by the way.) Eventually, Roo is found and sent to live in a foster home for a while. It is soon discovered, though, that this troubled young girl will be taken in by her wealthy uncle and sent to live on Cough Rock Island along the St. Lawrence River. The large edifice on the island was once a sanitarium for children with tuberculosis, and, almost immediately after arriving, Roo senses that this strange home is harboring some secrets…

Roo has some trouble adapting to her new home. She’s not used to being watched so much, and she looks for places to hide, places to make herself as small and unnoticeable as possible. But what will happen when Roo is the one who begins to notice things–strange things about both the island and the building that is now her home? Roo often hears a strange humming noise in the house, and she does her best to figure out where the noise is coming from. Her explorations lead her to some big surprises…including a garden that has been left to die in the center of this mysterious house. Who put this garden in the middle of the house? Why? And why has it been abandoned and left to die?

Roo is searching for answers to the mysteries surrounding her, and she may find help in some unexpected places. She encounters a remarkable boy who appears to live on the river. What’s his story, and where is his home? Roo also discovers yet another strange boy living right next to her. Who is this boy, and why is everyone so determined to keep him a secret? More importantly, what is his connection to her often-absent uncle and the dying garden that has been kept hidden from everyone?

Join Roo as she struggles to save the things that are fast becoming important to her–friendship, a family she never knew she wanted, and a garden that, with a little love and care, can blossom just like Roo’s hopes for the future. Explore the possibilities when you read The Humming Room by Ellen Potter.

I enjoyed The Humming Room much more than I thought I would. I found Roo to be a very sympathetic character, and I’m sure many young readers will agree. It’s easy to root for her, but readers will also be wildly curious about the mysteries surrounding her new home. That curiosity will, I predict, keep them turning each page. (Young readers may also enjoy Roo’s uncanny ability to evade the adults around her!)

The Humming Room is an excellent read for those in grades 3 and up. I’m guessing that adults who enjoyed The Secret Garden will enjoy comparing the two books, and The Humming Room may just convince readers who haven’t read The Secret Garden (like me) to finally give it a try.

For more information on The Humming Room and other books by Ellen Potter, visit her website at http://www.ellenpotter.com/. You may also want to check out her book trailer for The Humming Room below.

Touch Blue

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord, a nominee for the 2012-13 South Carolina Children’s Book Award, is one of the fastest reads I’ve had in a while.  I finished this book in just a couple of hours.  Despite its length, however, Touch Blue packed an emotional wallop.  The main character, eleven-year-old Tess, has a perfectly realistic voice, and, even though some readers, especially in South Carolina, will be unable to relate to the setting of this book (an island off the coast of Maine), they will find a relatable character in Tess.

In order to keep their island school from closing–and losing many of the island’s inhabitants to the mainland–some of the residents of Bethsaida Island agree to take in foster children to increase enrollment at the school.  Tess’ family is one of those taking in a new kid. 

As Tess and her little sister Libby eagerly await the arrival of thirteen-year-old Aaron, Tess is filled with visions of what it will be like to have an older brother.  She’s sure that it will be great, and she’s excited to have someone close to her age around.  She’s not, however, prepared for the emotional baggage that Aaron brings with him.  He’s justifiably moody and unsure of his new surroundings, and he resists all of Tess’ attempts to get closer to him.

Tess tries everything she can think of to help Aaron feel like he belongs, including a few things thought to bring good luck (like touching something blue to make a wish come true).  Gradually, Aaron feels more comfortable on the island–he plays his trumpet in the July 4th celebration, he helps Tess restore her boat, and he goes lobster-trapping with Tess and her Dad–but Tess knows that he’s holding back.  Aaron misses his mom, and he wants to get back to her.  Tess tries to convince Aaron that he belongs with her family, but it may take something drastic to make him believe he’s important to them.

Will Tess be able to help Aaron accept his new life and family, or will all of her wishing leave her with nothing?  Read Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord to find out.

I really enjoyed this book, and I plan to recommend it to all of my students in 3rd through 5th grades.  Middle grade readers may enjoy it as well.  I’m hoping that my students will be interested in the books that Tess alludes to throughout Touch BlueThe Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson, Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  I love how Tess relates her relationship with Aaron to those of the characters in these beloved books.

If you’re looking for a super-fast, moving, and heart-warming summer read, I highly recommend Touch Blue.  At its core, it is a story about what it means to truly belong and how a person creates his or her own luck.  This book is perfect for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider–and who hasn’t?

For more information on this book and others by Cynthia Lord, visit http://www.cynthialord.com/.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to the book I finished yesterday, Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  It was weird, creepy, and it messed with my head.  For the most part, I avoided reading it at night because I didn’t want to have nightmares.  (I think I’ve established in earlier posts that I am a wuss of the highest order.)  The photos (which are totally real) interspersed throughout the book moved the story along, but most of them also gave me a serious case of the willies.  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is unlike any book I’ve ever read, and I have a feeling you’ll feel the same way if you decide to pick it up.

Jacob has always known that his grandfather, Abraham, was a little “out there.”  Abe was always making up stories about children with strange abilities, and he talked about fighting monsters in the past.  When Jacob was a kid, he accepted these stories as absolute truth, but, as he grew older, he came to believe that his grandfather was just telling tall tales.  As it turns out, however, Abe might have been telling the truth.

When Abe is killed in a horrifying and gruesome manner, Jacob comes face to face with his grandfather’s mysterious past…a past that centers around a home for “special” children and their caretaker, Miss Peregrine.  Jacob then makes a long journey to find the place that meant so much to his grandfather…and hopefully find the truth behind the stories and photos Abe left behind.

As Jacob explores the isolated island in Wales where Miss Peregrine’s home is supposed to be, he comes across some strange things…a house that is in ruins one minute and pristine the next, kids dressed in clothes that seem to be right out of a history book, seemingly impossible feats, and a connection to the girl who once loved his grandfather.  Jacob travels through time itself to uncover the mystery surrounding his grandfather’s death, and he soon realizes that he and the people he’s coming to care about may be facing an even greater threat…a threat that could wipe out their very existence.  But what can he do?  There’s nothing special about him…or is there?  Could he have the same “gift” as his grandfather?  Is he one of the “peculiar children” too?  Join Jacob and a motley crew of outcasts from Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children as they fight an evil that could destroy everything they hold dear.

Mere words cannot express just how creepy this book really is.  This is definitely one you need to see for yourself.  The photos alone are worth picking up this book.  I found myself anticipating which strange photograph I’d be seeing next and how it would play into Jacob’s story.  And even though I’m not usually a fan of time travel fiction, it worked in this book…and, even better, the photos made it even seem plausible.  (I know it’s weird, but work with me here.)  I look forward to seeing more in the next book in this series (which is currently untitled and due out in 2013).  I know we’ll find more creepiness to enjoy!

If you’d like to learn more about author Ransom Riggs and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, visit http://www.ransomriggs.com/.  You also might like to know that a movie adaptation of this book is in the works with Tim Burton set to direct.  What an absolutely perfect pairing!