The first one is called "Behind the Canvas" by Alexander Vance. It's his second book (although I didn't read the first) and I really love his voice. This story is about a girl named Claudia who feels like she doesn't fit in. She really likes art and all her classmates think she's weird. The weirdness comes to the forefront when her class is on a trip to the Florence Museum of Arts and Culture and she notices a boy with vivid blue eyes in one of the paintings. Except no one else can see him. She sets forth on a quest to free the boy from an evil sorceress and ends up walking through some of the most famous paintings in the world. It's a super fun and thrilling adventure but what I really liked were the footnotes from the famous art historian, Dr. Burkhardt. These are absolutely hilarious commentary on the art and attitudes. I know a lot of people tend to blow off reading the footnotes, but REALLY. Read them. Anyway, I thought this was a great book and it's going to be a super funny, fantasy romp through the world of art history.
The second one is called "Some Kind of Courage" by Dan Gemeinhart. Dan Gemeinhart wrote a book a lot of people liked last year called "The Honest Truth". I didn't love that one but I thought the writing was good, so I didn't think I'd need to spend much time on this one. And I didn't need to spend much time on it, but not because it wasn't interesting, I didn't spend much time on it because I couldn't put it down. It's the story of a boy named Joseph and it's set along the Oregon Trail. He is an orphan (his dad was killed in an accident and his mom and little sister died of typhoid) and is in the care of a man named Grissom. Grissom was close by when Joseph's dad died and Grissom got all their supplies in exchange for taking care of Joseph. Grissom apparently isn't doing a great job of taking care of Joseph but when he sells Joseph's horse, it's the last straw and Joseph sets out on his own. It's immediately obvious that the man who bought Joseph's horse is not exactly a stand up guy so it's kind of lucky that Joseph runs into another boy, a Chinese boy named Ah-Kee to go with him. Ah-Kee doesn't speak English but they kind of figure things out and each seems to have strengths that come through just in time. This is a very fast paced story with lots of interesting historical details (including treatment of the Chinese and Native Americans during the Westward Expansion). I think this one will make a lot of kids who don't usually think historical fiction is something worth reading, sit up and take notice. This one would be good to compare to a book like "Mr. Tucket" by Gary Paulsen.
The last one is one I got in a box of books that I'm previewing for our book fair. It's by an author that I loved-Natalie Lloyd. Her first book was called "A Snicker of Magic" and I LOVED that one. So I was really looking forward to this new one called "A Key to Extraordinary". I didn't love this one as much as Snicker, but it was still good. It's about a girl named Emma who lives with her grandmother and her older brother in a bakery and cafe next door to a graveyard in a small town in the mountains. Emma's mom died a few years ago and Emma spends a lot of time in the cemetery-she even gives free tours! Emma and her family are very connected to their history and the history of their community. Before Emma's mom died, she gave Emma a book that details the history of the remarkable women in their family and Emma really wants to have a life that is worth recording in the book. Emma's grandmother, Blue, is starting to think that maybe she should give up the bakery to give the kids a better life, but Emma loves their community and the bakery and decides she's going to find the treasure that is often referred to in local lore. I really liked the theme of finding yourself and the writing is awesome. There are also ghosts in this book which maybe appealing to some kids. This would be a good one to compare with a book like "Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy" by Karen Foxlee.