a September jumble — fantastic fiction for ages 5 thru middle-grade

September has crept up on me!
It’s the beginning of my favorite season of all,
a perfect, cozy season for curling up with a good book.
Today’s jumble features a handful of short chapter books,
plus four fiction choices for older readers.
I thoroughly enjoyed discovering each of these
and hope there’s something just right
for the readers in your corner.

Cornbread & Poppy at the Carnival, written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell
published in 2022 by Little, Brown and Company
80 pages

This is the second volume in Matthew Cordell’s charming, beginning-chapter-book series about two dear friends. And what a perfect time to grab a book starring those late summer/early fall country fairs.

Although Poppy is agog with excitement, Cornbread is not so eager to attend the carnival. Granted, the sweets and treats sound yummy, and games and prizes are always fun. But those “high-flying, zooming rides” that Poppy is so enthused about? Uh-oh.

With Poppy’s assurances that she’ll watch out for him and all will be well, Cornbread joins her. They hop on their bikes and pedal to the scene of a splendid carnival. A whole lot of surprises await these two, however, as their expectations are quite upended! In the end, their warm friendship is the best part of the day.

Cordell’s iconic, friendly, slightly-disheveled illustrations are warm as toast, and his text is pitch-perfect for young readers. It’s a gem for ages 5 and up.

The Fabled Stables: Trouble with Tattle-Tails
The Fabled Stables: Belly of the Beast
written by Jonathan Auxier, illustrated by Olga Demidova
published by Harry N. Abrams in 2021 and 2022
both are 96 pages

We first met Auggie and explored the Fabled Stables where he cares for an assortment of highly unusual, magical creatures, in The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp. This is such a colorful, clever set of stories for young readers and listeners, that I wanted to remind you of them and let you know there are two more volumes out.

Tattle-Tails sees Auggie on an outing to the town of Rainbow’s End where there’s a veritable plague of tattle-tails — vexing little critters who attach themselves to folk and tattle on them! These tattlers have got the townspeople in such a tizzy they aren’t able to foil some bank robbers who steal the famous Rainbow’s End pot of gold! It’s up to Auggie and his stable-buddies to corral the tattle-tails, recoup the gold, and properly care for all the creatures, even the annoying ones.

Belly of the Beast sees Auggie facing down both the villainous Rooks and a terrifying Shibboleth which he does with the aid of both old friends and new. But not before spending a bit of time in the belly of the beast! Yikes! Both of these little books are bursting with vibrant illustrations and high-octane action. Perfect for sturdy new readers or young listeners ages 5 and up.

Teeny Houdini: The Disappearing Act, written by Katrina Moore, illustrated by Zoe Si
published in 2022 by Katherine Tegan Books
112 pages

Bessie Lee is a first grader with way too much fizz for her tiny self to manage. Her firecracker-bright enthusiasm simply overflows continually, which is not always optimal in a classroom…or on the school bus…or even in the house.

Just now Bess is enthusiastically working on an idea for her school’s talent show. She’s determined to win in order to prove to everyone that she is not so very little but actually quite big stuff. Her chosen talent? Magic. Houdini-level magic. She’s going to perform a disappearing act.

Only, overly-enthusiastic disappearing acts are also not always optimal and soon small Bess is up to her eyeballs in big trouble. In the end, a bit of repentance, a heap of familial love, a better idea, and a dash of improvisation all conspire to win the day. Anchored in the warmth of Bess’s Chinese-American family, this is a delightful series opener, with two more Teeny Houdini books also released this year. Grab it for ages 6 and up.

Catalina Incognito, written by Jennifer Torres, illustrated by Gladys Jose
published in 2022 by Aladdin
128 pages

Catalina, aka “Kitty Cat” to her family, is sandwiched between her older sister Coco — a daredevil, skateboarding whiz — and her baby brother Carlos — a drooling, cutey-pie. Catalina is a lot of things — a bookworm, a neatnik, endlessly curious, and yes, a bit of a perfectionist — but she does feel a bit overlooked in the midst of her Latinx family.

Tía Abuela — her great aunt with a larger-than-life personality — is visiting over Catalina’s birthday and gifts her a small sewing kit, all wrapped up in an old, moth-eaten, velvet pouch. This does not seem at all like the über-exciting presents her aunt usually gives her. But looks can be deceiving. Because this sewing kit contains magic.

Given the power to create magical disguises for herself, how will Catalina channel it for good? And how much power is there in the very non-magical practice of simply not worrying about being perfect? Sparkling personalities, a loving tribute to stitching and libraries, a warm Latinx family, and a delightful dash of magic make this series opener a winner.  The first 3 volumes are already out; a fourth is due out in November. A smattering of Spanish words are cleverly translated within the text.  Ages 6 and up.

Leave It to Plum!, written and illustrated by Matt Phelan
published in 2022 by Greenwillow
128 pages

Plum is a pert peacock whose heart percolates with sunshine and positivity. He lives at the Athensville Zoo where, since the zoo’s beginning, peacocks have been given freedom to roam and act as goodwill ambassadors to all the visitors.

This glorious status for Plum & Co. rankles the resentful heart of Itch, the resident ningbing (that’s an Australian marsupial), and he devises a plan to take Plum’s plumage down a notch or two. A devious plan. A downright rotten and ratty set-up. Before they can say “splendid feathers,” the peacock clan has landed in deep trouble.

It’s up to Plum to outwit the devious machinations of Itch, aided by the loyal friends Plum has made via his everlasting kindness. Generously studded with Phelan’s masterful line drawings, this humorous story, crammed with personality and heart, will bring a big smile to the faces of readers ready for some stout vocabulary —  ages 8 and up! I loved this one!

Midnight Magic, by Avi
published in 1999 by Scholastic
241 pages

Over 20 years ago, Avi wrote this mystery adventure which gobs of middle grade kids have absolutely loved. Ten years later he wrote the prequel, Murder at Midnight (which is, confusingly, now called Book 1 in the series.) This year, at long last, a sequel has been published, City of Magic. That prompted me to go back and read the true series-opener, and I discovered a fast-paced, exciting mystery that I bet many of your kids would enjoy.

In the kingdom of Pergamontio, Mangus the Magician is under orders never to practice his dark arts again. This suits Mangus as he has never truly thought of himself as a wizard. He doesn’t even believe in magic. He’s only someone clever at sleight of hand and stagecraft. One night, though, he and his servant boy, Fabrizio, are secretly summoned to the castle. It seems the king has dire need of Mangus’ magic after all, for the princess has been haunted by a ghost and it’s up to Mangus to free her from this terror.

That’s just the beginning to all manner of secrets at the castle. Intrigue! Murder! Ghostly sightings! Secret passageways! There’s a whole lot of mischief and mayhem for Mangus and his semi-trusty servant to unravel and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Through it all, Mangus steadfastly relies upon his logic and reason to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Personally, I’d recommend jumping into the series with this book rather than reading the prequel first as often a prequel doesn’t have quite the same pizzazz as a firecracker title meant originally to stand alone. Sophisticated readers/listeners may eye-roll some weaker plot points, but the fast pace, cliffhanger chapter endings, and witty banter between Mangus and Fabrizio have made it a fan favorite of many kids. It reminded me a little of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books. Give it a whirl and if it’s a hit, you can proceed along to the other two in the series. I’d suggest it for ages 8-12.

The Turtle of Michigan, by Naomi Shihab Nye
published in 2022 by Greenwillow Books
322 pages

Aref is 8 years old. His parents have moved with him from Oman to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to pursue their PhDs. They plan on a 3-year stay. In an earlier book (The Turtle of Oman) we met Aref and his dear grandpa, Sidi, as they worked through the emotions of the upcoming separation and the leaving behind of all Aref knows. Now Aref is on the plane, arriving at his new home, making new friends, learning all about America and Ann Arbor, and corresponding with Sidi.

Naomi Shihab Nye has set her story firmly in the present day, even including the death of Oman’s beloved Sultan Qaboos which took place in 2020. Thus the day to day lives of the children in Aref’s school will feel perfectly familiar to readers. It’s a lovely mixture of American and Omani cultures with a few others entering as well via Aref’s multicultural classroom.

I loved the first novel and also very much enjoyed this quiet, kindhearted, thoughtful exploration of what it is like to be brand new in a place, especially when that place is so far removed from your prior sense of normal. It provides an insightful window for those outside of this experience as well as an invitation to talk about similarities and differences for those who have, like Aref, started over in a new environment.

Lyrical writing and authentic childlike perspectives characterize this account, recommended for kids who don’t require high energy, action-packed plots. It would make a great read-aloud. I think ages 6-10 are the sweet spot.


The Last Mapmaker, by Christina Soontornvat
published in 2022 by Candlewick Press
359 pages

Sai Arawan, almost 13 years old, is in reality a poor mud lark from the slummy, stinking, backwater community known as the Fens where she lives with her father, a hard-drinking con man.  By sheer luck, however, plus her proclivity for impeccable penmanship and drafting skills, she’s landed a position as Assistant to master mapmaker Paiyoon, a position typically reserved for members of the upper class.

It’s that job that becomes her ticket to join a voyage of discovery to chart the unknown southern seas. But while she’s aboard, Sai discovers a host of hidden agendas and secrets amongst the crew. Suddenly she’s confronted with far more than she bargained for — huge risks, competing dreams, and tough moral choices. When presented with an ultimatum, whose best interest will Sai pursue?

Set in an imaginary Asian world of islands, seafarers, and quite possibly dragons, this adventure combines the ingredients of classic sea yarns with a more female-forward cast. The honorable mapmaker Paiyoon also serves as an ethical voice, countering the aggressive practices of both whaling and conquering unknown lands which are valued by his countrymen. There is a lovely sense of honor for our fellow creatures woven into this tale. Dramatic high seas action, intrigue, loyalties and betrayals, and the weighty consequences of our choices, all give heft to this excellent story for ages 10 and up.

A Duet for Home, by Karina Yan Glaser
published in 2022 by Clarion Books
358 pages

Although she’s just 11 years old, June Yang is shouldering enough burdens to bow the shoulders of any adult. Since her dad’s tragic accidental death 6 months ago, her mom hasn’t spoken, has retreated inside herself, leaving June to care for herself, her mom, and her 6-year-old sister. Now they’ve been evicted from their apartment and have landed in a homeless shelter. And not just any shelter — this one is run by grouchy Ms. MacMillan who has a rule banning musical instruments, meaning June has to surrender her beloved viola.

Tyrell, also age 11, has lived at this same Huey House shelter for 3 years. His best friend Jeremiah lives there, too, or at least he did until he and his much-more-responsible mom got the chance to move into their own place. That hurts Tyrell to the core.

So Tyrell and June become compatriots and despite the immense difficulties they face, these two children and some sterling adults in their midst manage to create community and turn Huey House into a real home. Then, a new governmental policy begins pushing families out of the shelter on an aggressive timetable, far before they’re able to cope on their own. It’s up to Tyrell and June to join forces and save their home.

Kristina Yan Glaser is the author of the beloved Vanderbeeker series and here again she nails the beauty of friendship, the poignant power of camaraderie, and the ability of fractured people to bring about healing for one another. I’m guessing some will find her ending here a bit too rosy or tidy, but it’s certainly a story that stars lovingkindness, warms our hearts, and inspires us to help make the world a better place. She uses her novel to shine a light on the complexities and difficulties of homelessness as well as the strength and dignity of those who find themselves displaced. Peopled with a large cast of memorable characters, it’s a wonderful, contemporary, tenderhearted read for ages 10 and up.