Chris Grabenstein's The Crossroads has been a brisk circulator in my library, so I was happy to get The Hanging Hill. Since Zack's house was heavily damaged in a fire (drat those pesky ghosts!), he and his stepmother are spending the summer working on a production of a play of one of her books, Curiosity Cat, at the Hanging Hill Playhouse. Reginald Grimes is directing, but he's an odd fellow-- raised in an orphanage where his arm was damaged, bitter, and all too eager to believe that he is an evil overlord. How can he rule the world? Unfortunately, Zack and his new actor friends are about to find out. There's a reason the cranky custodian has kept children out of the theatre for years, and it has to do with the many ghosts that Zack can see as well as even darker forces.
This was such fun! Zack is a great character who has a weary resignation to his ghost seeing abilities. His step-mother is caring but not overly obstrusive. Grimes and his compatriots were a little over the top, but fun for all that. The writing is really clever-- I quoted the chapter from the dog's point of view (something that would normally drive me nuts) to my children , because I swear it's exactly what our dog thinks. ("He didn't mind cats. They were fine-- just, you know, different. Slept a lot. Tossed their own toys. Played with tin foil. Didn't know how to sit or stay. Pooped in a box." Page 198.)
Mr. Grabenstein also gets massive points for his Latin. While there are a few errors, the use of the subjunctive was impressive enough that I won't cast any aspersions on his character for his failure to use the vocative. Very, very good mystery/horror book.
Don Wulffson's Soldier X is such a popular book that I had to take a look at his The Golden Rat (2007). Set in 12th century China, is concerns Baoliu, who is wrongly accused of killing his stepmother. Even though his father's believes he is quilty, he pays a price to have another man die in Baoliu's place, and then cuts off all connections with his son. Baoliu is left to make his own way and try to solve the murder as well as try to make reparations to the family of the man who died in his stead. This book has lots of action and adventure as well as many details of every day life in ancient China.
MarkTeague's name sounded so familiar, and it turns out that before he wrote The Doom Machine, he illustrated all of the Jane Yolen books like How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? This is very different; sort of War of the Worlds meets Can of Worms. I've opined before that science fiction in the modern day tends toward the dystopian, so it's interesting that Teague decided to set this in 1953-- and have it be the story of an alien invasion. I had a little trouble with it because of the quirky set of characters, as well as the aliens with bizarre names, but this was fast-paced and fun. The illustrations are not overly cartoon-like, which is helpful, and the shiny cover will attract readers.
We have an autism spectrum unit at my middle school, so I am always looking for books like Baskin's Anything But Typical that might help other students understand the difficulties these students face. While Blaze Ginsberg's Episodes: My Life as I See It is an interesting work (it's set up in sections much like the online resource, The Internet Movie Database, and his experiences or sets of experiences are described like movies), it's a bit dense for middle school students. Some of the print is very tiny. I will recommend this to our teachers, but will continue my search for other books on this topic for students.