Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle

Even though I’ve felt like absolute crap for the past couple of days, I did manage to finish another of this year’s South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees, Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle by George Hagen. (Only two more to go!)

This book, suitable for upper elementary grade readers on up, is a fantastical tale full of mystery, peril, and riddles. It’s a great book for those readers who’ve exhausted the Harry Potter series and are looking for something similar. And given how this book ended, I’m hopeful that we’ll see more of Gabriel Finley and friends in the future.

Gabriel Finley’s father, Adam, has been missing for several years. Gabriel lives in Brooklyn with his aunt, but he never stops wondering what happened to his father. Soon, though, Gabriel will begin to solve the riddle of his missing father…and so much more.

When Gabriel discovers that he can communicate with ravens–who are the most intelligent of all the birds–secrets begin to be revealed. As it turns out, his dad shared this gift, and it could have something to do with his disappearance. Gabriel’s dad worked with his own raven companion, or amicus, to hide a powerful object from the valravens (cursed, fiendish birds) and their leader, Corax, a being who is half-man, half-valraven…and Gabriel’s uncle.

With the help of his own amicus, Paladin, and several friends, Gabriel begins to unravel the truth of what his uncle is seeking and the whereabouts of his father. The journey involves untangling riddles, battle with a magical, music-loving desk, and learning about the Finley family’s secrets. Gabriel is determined to find his way to his father, but forces are at work that are equally determined to stop him.

Is Gabriel ready to descend into Aviopolis, Corax’s horrifying domain, risking the lives of himself and his friends, to prevent Corax from ruling both above and below the surface? Will he be able to rescue his father, save himself and his friends, and defeat the evil Corax? Read Gabriel Finley & the Raven’s Riddle to find out!

I barely touched on my favorite part of this book–the riddles. To a word nerd like myself, they were fun and entertaining, and I loved that saving the world in this book relied more on using one’s brain than relying on brawn. I’m hoping my students have as much fun as I did figuring out the answers to the riddles, and I think reading this book could lead to readers crafting their own riddles.

As of right now, there’s no word on future Gabriel Finley books, but I’ll definitely be on the lookout. There are several mysteries in Gabriel’s life that are yet to be solved, and I, for one, would love some answers. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about this great fantasy, visit the Gabriel Finley website. Enjoy!

Liesl & Po

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Lauren Oliver.  I loved Before I Fall, Delirium, and Pandemonium.  When I first heard that she was coming out with a novel for younger readers, I knew it would be as awesome as her young adult novels.  Well, I finished reading Liesl & Po this morning (I started it last night.), and it was even better than I thought it would be.  I’m going to give it the highest praise I can think of:  It reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.  (I love Neil Gaiman…a lot.)  This book is sure to be a hit with elementary readers up through adults.  Anyone who enjoys stories filled with magic, sadness, and, most importantly, hope, will find Liesl & Po to be as enchanting as I did.

All sunshine has gone out of the world.  Life is dull and gray for everyone, especially two children, Liesl and Will, who want nothing more than the hope that things will get better…

Liesl spends her days and nights trapped in an attic by her vile stepmother. Her father passed away three days ago, and Liesl feels more alone than ever before. That’s about to change, though. When a ghost named Po–and his ghost pet Bundle–begin to visit Liesl from the Other Side, she doesn’t feel quite so alone. She even begins to hope that her life can change a little and that she can even find some way to reconnect with her father.

Will is an apprentice to an alchemist. He spends his days doing errands, assisting with potions, and never getting anything right. (He’s beginning to think his name is really “Useless.”) The only bright spot in Will’s life is looking at the girl in the attic window and wondering what it would be like if they were to ever meet. As fate would have it, he is about to find out…

When Will mistakenly switches a box full of powerful magic with the box that contains Liesl’s father’s ashes, forces collide that take Liesl, Po, Bundle, and Will on a path that will lead them to each other.  They will fight against evil, cruelty, loss, sadness, and some misunderstandings to get to something better than what they’ve known.  In the process, they will discover friendships that cross the boundary of death.  They may even find a way to make the world a brighter place for everyone.  After all, when magic and hope are involved, anything is possible.

I urge any and all librarians who work with children and young adults to add Liesl & Po book to your collections.  For those of you who aren’t librarians, add this book to your reading list.  It’s a wonderful book about overcoming loss and sadness and restoring color to a dull, gray existence.  Even in the darkest times, there is a sense of hope in this book and its characters that I think we could all use a dose of.  Read this book!  You won’t be sorry.

If you’re still not convinced, check out this awesome book trailer for Liesl & Po (from HarperKids):

For more information on Lauren Oliver and all of her amazing books, visit  You can also follow her on Twitter @OliverBooks.


Warning!  Torn is the fourth book in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s The Missing series.  To have any hope of understanding this book, you need to read the first three:  Found, Sent, and Sabotaged.  (If you’re anything like me, though, even reading the first three books may not help much.  This series deals with time travel, a concept that totally messes with my head.)

It is rare for me to get through four books in a series and stop, knowing that more books are on the way…but I might have to make an exception in this case.  When I first read Found, I was totally intrigued.  It was like Lost for kids.  I became less impressed with the next two books, and, now that I’ve finished the fourth—Torn—I’m ready for this series to be done.  (And I know there’s at least one more book on the way.) 

I put off reading Torn for a while simply because I wasn’t a huge fan of Sent and Sabotaged, and I knew I would be in for more of the same in the fourth installment.  In this series, Haddix combines elements of historical fiction and time travel.  In essence, the series revolves around the missing children from history and the struggle to return them to their places and “fix time.”  We were introduced to this story line in Found; in Sent, we traveled to England in the time of Richard III; in Sabotaged, we journeyed to the lost Jamestown colony with Virginia Dare; and in Torn, we make our way to the icy waters around northernCanada with the notable explorer Henry Hudson.

Like the previous books, Jonah and Katherine are trying to fix time and get back home.  This time, Jonah must pretend to be John Hudson, Henry’s son, and Katherine has to become invisible.  After all, they’re aboard a ship filled with less-than-pleasant sailors, and a girl on the ship would be considered odd, to say the least.  As Jonah and Katherine struggle to make sense of things in 1611, they’re also trying to figure out why and how time is being manipulated in the first place.  Can they fix things in this time, rescue their friends stuck in 1600, and return home without making a total mess of things?  I’ll leave that for you to figure out when you read Torn by Margaret Peterson Haddix.

It should go without saying that I wasn’t a huge fan of this book.  I have issues with time travel, and I’m not one to read much historical fiction (despite my previous life as a social studies teacher).  I did, however, appreciate the lengthy author’s note which detailed how much of this book (a lot) was based on fact. 

If you like mysteries, time travel, and historical fiction, you might want to give The Missing series a try.  For more information on the series and author Margaret Peterson Haddix, visit